Wednesday, January 15, 2014


There's a bit of a party going on at Pig & Khao.  This is definite asset, 'cause if I'm going to schlep all the way down to the far reaches of the LES, I not only want a meal, I want a great one, and a little entertainment thrown in on the side.  Which is precisely what they have going on at P&K.  We sat comfortably upon tall stools abutting the open kitchen counter: this way, we got a really good look at what was going on here.   Which is a lot of profoundly delicious food.  And this, truth be told, is almost disconcerting, given the jubilance and hijinks going on in front of the stove.  The quartet of cooks looked like they were having far too much fun to be putting out food this good.

A little line-up of tchotchkes between the counter and the kitchen adds to the playfulness, and made for good conversation pieces alongside perusing the menu.  I need to remember to bring them something funny to add to the collection if and when I ever make it back there.  I think my personal favorites were the humping crocodiles, but a miniature disco ball is never a bad addition to any party.  But the menu itself is almost stimulating enough, for as unfamiliar as I am with Filipino cuisine, almost every dish had some curious appeal.  Now, I can't speak at all for authenticity of flavor, but P&K does bill itself as Filipino inspired , so it may not be fundamentally true to its origins.  But of no matter.  Chef Leah Cohen does this food,

HER food (be it Filipino or pan-Southeast Asian or what have you) some serious justice.  The flavors are bold, sometimes brash, with shocks of chile and lingering funk.  A clay cup of fermented cabbage arrived first, just this side of tender, ensconcing minute zephyrs of brilliantly fiery chilis with unpredictable frequency, but an unfailing vegetal burn.  We didn't get the baby back ribs that got to call Asian slaw its garnish, but it looked so good on the pass that we requested it anyways.  They provided it unhesitatingly, and it was so worth asking for (although the ribs looked pretty spectacular themselves).   But actually, its raw, mild crunch was delicious on its own, and laudably well-behaved when mixed with its fermented brethren, as well, creating a twice off-menu treat that I'd actually recommend. 

Cod in a banana leaf was dense and flavorful, and although the thick coconut muddied the exterior in a somewhat sludgy manner, it imparted a balancing sweetness to the mild fish, which was stuffed with slew of curried peppers and aromatics, and sprinkled with whole cilantro leaves.  Speaking of curry, the mussels swam in a deep, fragrant curry coconut broth, brightened with pineapple and shreds of thai basil.  The mussels themselves were perhaps the best mollusks I have a had, nary a downer in the bunch, clean, sweet and tender, and
almost as buxomly plump as the bronzed fried mantao buns that floated amongst them.  Those buns were yeasty and sturdy, their steaming crumb chewy and pliant- just begging to soak up the richly perfumed broth.   And although we had no cow, we did have pig.  I loved the pork jowl with brussels sprouts, too.  Well, I loved the brussels sprouts: I had imagined pork jowl to be like pork cheeks, but it is more like lardo, big, gelatinous flaps that ombre into a tiny border of tender pink meat.  The flavor it helped impart to the brussels, though, was extraordinary.  Along with the funk of fish sauce, toasty puffed rice and a smattering if fresh cilantro it channeled Momofuku's exceptional sprouts in that how-does-that-combination-end-up-tasting-like-Nacho Cheese Doritos kind of way:  zesty and salty and habit-forming.  I kept meaning to stop eating them but then there were still some left... until then there weren't.  But they remain forever etched in my memory.

Finally, we bypassed dessert because I was dining with a borderline-diabetic.  Little did I know what I was missing out on.  While I could easily have bypassed the sauteed banana with salted caramel and chocolate, missing that halo-halo is gonna haunt me.  It looked like a whimsical Candy Land on ice- like a sno-cone gone ballistic.  A psychedelic dollop of fluorescent ube ice cream trickled its fruity purpleness into a mound of shaved ice and eggy cubes of leche  flan,  flecked with young coconut and toasted rice flakes.  A classic Filipino dessert, it looked crazy and fancy and festive and delicious. which would be THE perfect finale for a meal at Pig & Khao.

      68 Clinton St      Phone: 212-920-4485

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