Khe-Yo’s Free Rice, Fiery Duck Banh Mi Sizzle: Review

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Photographer: Philip Lewis/Bloomberg

Pork and coconut curry soup comes with thin rice noodles and sauteed scallions at Khe-Yo. Diners can season the soup to their liking with a bevy of chile peppers and fresh herbs.

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Photographer: Philip Lewis/Bloomberg

Pork and coconut curry soup comes with thin rice noodles and sauteed scallions at Khe-Yo. Diners can season the soup to their liking with a bevy of chile peppers and fresh herbs. Close

Pork and coconut curry soup comes with thin rice noodles and sauteed scallions at Khe-Yo. Diners can season the soup... Read More

Photographer: Philip Lewis/Bloomberg

Patrons file into Tribeca's Khe-Yo. Marc Forgione, who runs a Michelin-starred restaurant nearby, is a partner. Close

Patrons file into Tribeca's Khe-Yo. Marc Forgione, who runs a Michelin-starred restaurant nearby, is a partner.

Photographer: Philip Lewis/Bloomberg

Sticky rice comes with incendiary bang bang sauce and smoked eggplant at Khe-Yo. The dish is complimentary. Close

Sticky rice comes with incendiary bang bang sauce and smoked eggplant at Khe-Yo. The dish is complimentary.

Photographer: Philip Lewis/Bloomberg

Khe-Yo's extremely spicy bang bang sauce consists of garlic, Thai chiles, sugar, lime juice, fish sauce and cilantro. Close

Khe-Yo's extremely spicy bang bang sauce consists of garlic, Thai chiles, sugar, lime juice, fish sauce and cilantro.

Photographer: Philip Lewis/Bloomberg

Beef jerky comes with smoked chile sauce and fresh radishes at Khe-Yo. The dish costs $12. Close

Beef jerky comes with smoked chile sauce and fresh radishes at Khe-Yo. The dish costs $12.

Photographer: Philip Lewis/Bloomberg

Raw fluke is served as part of a Laotian-inspired laap salad at Khe-Yo. The flatfish lies over eggplant, garlic and jalapenos. Close

Raw fluke is served as part of a Laotian-inspired laap salad at Khe-Yo. The flatfish lies over eggplant, garlic and jalapenos.

Photographer: Philip Lewis/Bloomberg

A whole grilled black bass, de-boned by the waiter table-side before being served. Diners wrap the fish in lettuce and dip it in tamarind peanut sauce. Close

A whole grilled black bass, de-boned by the waiter table-side before being served. Diners wrap the fish in lettuce... Read More

Chef Soulayphet Schwader at Khe-Yo. He was born in Laos and moved to Wichita, Kansas, when he was three. Photograph: Philip Lewis/Bloomberg Close

Chef Soulayphet Schwader at Khe-Yo. He was born in Laos and moved to Wichita, Kansas, when he was three. Photograph:... Read More

Certain New York restaurants will charge you four bucks for steak sauce; at others, bread might set you back five.

Then there’s Khe-Yo, a Laotian-inspired hotspot where the best dish -- sticky rice -- is free. You scoop it up and loosen the mound with your fingers. The warm grains, served in a straw basket, are semi-dry and gently glutinous, with just enough tanginess to make your mouth water.

Two sauces accompany it. One is a mash of sweet, smoky eggplant. The other, called bang bang, puckers the mouth with lime, whets the palate with fish sauce and assaults your lips and sinuses with chile. The sauced rice, without any meat or fat, delivers a sensory pleasure similar to eating Buffalo wings.

Have it with a bottle of dark Laotian lager and there’s your $7 dinner. No, nothing is really free in restaurants -- the cost of that rice is surely factored into all of Khe-Yo’s prices. Still, it’s nice not to feel nickel-and-dimed.

Khe-Yo is a win for chef Soulayphet Schwader, raised in Kansas but born in Laos, whose food is similar to the northern Thai fare we’ve been gorging on at Andy Ricker’s excellent Pok Pok.

It’s also a coup for partner Marc Forgione, the Michelin-starred chef and Long Island-born son of chef Larry Forgione, an icon of New American cooking.

No Burgers

Combined with other Thai spots like Uncle Boons and Kin Shop, as well as the Vietnamese Nightingale 9, New York is now enjoying a renaissance of Southeast Asian fare in all its spicy, sour, fishy and fermented glory.

There are no steaks, burgers or burritos at Khe-Yo. No brunch either.

But there is lunch, in the form of a kiosk next door called Khe-Yosk (of course), which hawks a mean banh mi baguette ($11). The sandwich is stuffed with arugula, Thai chile and duck confit.

Dunk it in a cup of au jus and savor the insane sriracha mayonnaise -- and foie gras, a holdover from French colonial times (as is the wine list, which is 100 percent Gallic).

Paul Kubler’s “Z” Sylvaner is a fine by-the-glass selection ($15), a soft Alsatian white to counteract the wicked acidity in Schwader’s vibrant dishes.

Drizzled Marrow

Beef tartare, a mix of knuckle and skirt, practically sizzles with lime, while a sucker punch of chile keeps your mouth buzzing. It comes with oyster sauce-drizzled bone marrow. Why? Because fat tames the pain. Allegedly.

Khe-Yo does right by laap, zippy meat and fish salads. Try the fluke laap ($13). Schwader drapes paper-thin sheets of the flatfish over eggplant and jalapenos. He roasts sweet cubes of squash, anoints them with toasted rice powder and pairs them with resinous, verdant Vietnamese coriander.

He also lays strips of duck breast over red kale and arugula ($15). Yawn. Pass on the crunchy coconut rice too, a forgettable $10 preparation.

Succulent pork curry broth ($21) is a must. Sip it throughout the meal. As with pho, diners season it themselves with mint, cilantro, pickled chiles and more.

Finger Food

Same goes for the black bass ($33). A waiter debones the fish tableside. Then you wrap it in cress and dip it in tamarind sauce, again with your fingers.

Tete de cochon is a porky profusion of smoky morsels, crisp skin and candy-sweet nuggets. Your more squeamish guests might try the kaffir-and-lemongrass-stuffed chicken, where the tender meat is infused with intoxicating herbs. Pork ribs rock too. No fall-off-the-bone wimpiness here; they’re grilled for a chewy heft.

Skip dessert. Let your mouth simmer down on its own.

Rating: ** 1/2

The Bloomberg Questions:

Price: Most dishes $33 or under.

Sound Level: Bustling, but oddly quieter in the bar area.

Date Place: Definitely.

Inside Tip: Lao-Lao tipple is great, like sweet-tea vodka.

Special Feature: Excellent chile prawns with toast ($25).

Back On My Own Dime? Can’t wait.

Khe-Yo is at 157 Duane Street. Information: +1-212-587-1089 or http://kheyo.com.

(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Zinta Lundborg on books and New York art auctions.

To contact the writer of this column: Ryan Sutton in New York at rsutton1@bloomberg.net or qualityrye on http://twitter.com/qualityrye

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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