Crab fried rice and marinated scallops, Uncle Boons (New York City)
It’d be easy to be skeptical of Uncle Boons, a trendy Thai restaurant in the Bowery. The high-end Asian thing that might be born of love, or might simply represent a soft, well-trod path for a canny restaurateur. The dining room that looks either organically and haphazardly arrived at or painstakingly assembled to look careless and hodgepodge. The backstory—Per Se cooks doing Thai—that could be inspired, or could feel like slumming.
But then you settle into the low-lit warren of rooms and take in the blackened cabbages rotating on a spit like something out of Heart of Darkness, and you think: This ain’t the usual.
The food’s phenomenal—three-plus-star cooking at two-star prices.
The best two courses of my dinner last week arrived together. The crab fried rice was impressively light and fluffy, but the dish itself had depth and richness that you would never have guessed from looking at the bowl. And the scallops, unimpeachably fresh and sweet and firm and sliced in two, were lovingly, intricately strewn with shavings of mint, kaffir-lime leaf, and crushed chilies and dashed with a good squeeze of lime.
This is what all high-end Asian cooking should taste like. This bright. This clean. This up.
Appropriately washed down with a tall, strong glass of Singapore Sling, that oldie but goodie—which, no lie, is carried on draft. Heck, I’d give the place an extra half-star just for that.
Next time: the blackened heads of cabbage with dried shrimp and shallots.
Cranberry slushito, Estadio
After this long slog of a winter (and last week’s rain), the recent blast of gorgeous summer was cause for celebration. For me, that came courtesy of the bar at Estadio, in the form of a tart, icy slush of cranberry, gin, and the faintest hint of anise. It was the perfect kickoff to yet another terrific dinner at Mark Kuller’s tapas place, with rounds of spicy, oily chorizo links with potato chips, sweet ramps tangled with romesco, crispy beer-battered cod, lovely beets on crusty bread, and a fabulous hanger steak with tender potatoes and a sauce of Valdeon blue cheese . . . which was the second best thing I had this week.
Green curry chicken, Beau Thai
Green curry is one of those ubiquitous dishes found on every Thai menu. Unfortunately it’s often bogged down with coconut milk, or the kitchen plays heavy-handed with the sugar. Ideally the dish tastes as bright as its color, rich but not heavy, brightened with herbs and fresh green chilies. You can expect this version from Beau Thai, with locations in Mount Pleasant and Shaw. After a number of failed attempts to find tasty, not-too-expensive Thai takeout in the District, chef Aschara Vigsittaboot delivers a solution. The bowl arrives with young peppercorns, Thai basil, and sweet slices of eggplant, plus a protein of your choosing. The portion won’t likely yield leftovers, but it provides a perfectly comforting meal for just $11. Don’t stop at the green curry; we’ve made feasts out of shrimp rolls, spicy drunken noodles, and red curry with duck and fresh pineapple.