New Kid on the Block: Khe-Yo

Khe-Yo roomAmong the few items of decor at Khe-Yo, the restaurant opening today in the old Duane Park space, is a framed photo of a family in the Southeast Asian country of Laos. “That’s me in the middle, with the scowl,” said Soulayphet “Phet” Schwader, chef and co-owner (along with Marc Forgione and Chris Blumlo of Marc Forgione).

“I was born in Laos, but I grew up in Wichita. There are actually a lot of Laotians in the Midwest. There’s a Laotian grocery store in Wichita! But when I moved to New York, I was like, Where’s the Laotian community?” So when the time was right to open his own place—Schwader has worked with Forgione for over ten years—he decided to open a Laotian restaurant. (Pronunciation break! Khe-Yo, which means “green” = kee-oh. Phet = pet. And Schwader says Laotian = lay-oh-shin, although his sister says lau-shin, so maybe anything goes.)

Khe-Yo menu2

Khe-Yo’s menu (click to enlarge).

Schwader has been calling the food “Laotian-inspired”: While the flavors are traditional Laotian, presentation and ingredients are often different. (Call it Manhattan Laotian.) For example, papaya salad is a staple of the cuisine, but come fall, he’ll incorporate butternut squash. “Every menu item is something I grew up eating. When my family came to visit a few weeks ago, that was the real test. They were the ones who did the cooking when I was a kid—I did the dishes. I asked them, ‘Am I on the right track? Is the flavor what we grew up with?'” I asked Schwader to describe Laotian food, and he said that protein is never the focus—which is not to say that vegetarians will find the menu particularly accommodating—and sticky rice is a main component. (According to the menu, sticky rice “tastes better when you eat it with your hands.”) “Laotian food is about the condiments, the different sauces, the vegetables by side of the meal.” At this point, he mentioned wild shiso—I have a thing for shiso—so I asked if it tastes different from cultivated shiso, which I’m trying to grow in my apartment right now. He gave me some to taste, and all I can say is, Yes. Also exciting: “A good price point was important to me,” said Schwader; four of the five entrées are under $25.

The restaurant, which seats 64 with room for ten more at the bar, looks rather like Marc Forgione without the bric-a-brac. “I didn’t want a typical Asian restaurant look,” said Schwader. The exception is an elephant mural on the rear wall; Laos used to be called the Land of a Million Elephants. Walls are exposed brick, complete with ghost arches, and tables are reclaimed teak from From the Source in Greenpoint. More plants are coming soon.

For now, Khe-Yo is only serving dinner, but lunch will follow eventually. And in coming weeks, you’ll be able to pick up a Vietnamese-style sandwich from the kiosk—to be called Khe-Yosk—from which Duane Park used to sell ice cream. “We’ll have three sandwiches at a time, and they’ll all be under $10.” There are no plans for delivery from either Khe-Yo or Khe-Yosk.

Khe-Yo is at 157 Duane (between W. Broadway and Hudson), 212-587-1089; kheyo.com.

UPDATE: Comments have been closed due to spam; please share your thoughts on the restaurant on Khe-Yo’s page in the Tribeca Citizen Restaurant Guide.

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3 Comments

  1. I love that they start every meal not with bread but with a bowl of sticky rice, tomato compote and a fiery chili fish sauce to dip. Yum! Fluke crudo is nutty good with clean bright flavors. The food is delish – it’s a great addition to the neighborhood!

  2. Went there – loved it, excellent and spicy!

  3. a welcome addition! let’s hope it’s good!
    update: the cocktails are delish and the atmosphere pretty good. A bit loud inside the main dining area. The menu could use some sides of veggies and healthier varieties of entrees, but the tastes are great and the presentation pretty good as well. The staff was extraordinarily nice and friendly and attentive, with a pretty good staff to table ratio. We tried the sticky rice (2!), mango salad (the only healthy item other than the chicken), chicken on a skewer and ribs. The fish on a skewer looked good at the table next to us. Would have been great to add some veggie sides to the menu. Overall, a great addition to the ‘hood for some Asian flair and flavors.