Seven New York Restaurants Where Western Chefs Make Eastern Food

White folk can’t dance or jump, but they’re hard to beat when it comes to cultural appropriation. To the list of stuff white people like to do, you can add cooking Asian food. New York’s preference for authenticity once made it a rarity for western chefs to take on eastern cuisine, but more and more big names are trying their hand at the canon. It’s not just about obsessing over Thai food, either. New York palates are expanding, with Balinese, Yunnan, and Filipino flavors now in the mix. To see where the city’s top chefs are rocking the wok, click on over to our latest Top List and check out the city’s best western chef/eastern taste mashups.

Thai to Wait For: Pok Pok Ny Continues to Wow

If you were biding your time to try Andy Ricker’s famous Pok Pok Ny until the hype, and the lines, died down, you bet wrong. With today’s two-star review by New York Times writer Pete Wells, Pok Pok is still all anyone can talk talk about. Who ever thought Thai food would be all the rage?

While the ubiquitous fusion food trend tends to strike Asian cuisine the hardest, Ricker’s straightforward menu doesn’t cross any boundaries. His solid Thai cuisine first gained a following in Portland, where he opened the original Pok Pok in 2005. There, he went on to open Pok Pok Noi, Whiskey Soda Lounge, and soon he will add another restaurant to the line up. That’s not all, in 2011 he won the James Beard Award for Best Chef Northeast, and this year he debuted Pok Pok Wing in the Lower East Side before opening Pok Pok Ny in Brooklyn. The people have been queuing up since.  

Of course, despite the hype, Pok Pok Ny isn’t perfect. Wells writes in his review:

There are other ways in which Pok Pok Ny hasn’t synchronized its watches yet. An order went missing for ages, then showed up in duplicate. And one night I ran into two or three dishes whose flavors seemed to be napping, including a fried egg salad and even a papaya salad. I left downcast, humming Peggy Lee: Is that all there is?

No, it’s not. In my next visits I was thrilled to taste more remarkable dishes than the table could hold: prawns in smoky noodles simmered with soy and ginger in a clay pot; an eggy pancake of juicy, sweet mussels with garlic chives; a stunningly complex pork laap. Compared with other pork laaps I’ve had, this one seemed to have eight or nine extra dimensions. The memory of it will be enough to keep me docile next time I wait for a table.

In the meantime, if you want to good, authentic Thai food without the wait, try Zaab Elee, which not only is authentic and delicious, but inexpensive. For a modern twist on Thai, chef Hong Thaimee does some amazing things with papaya and lobster at her East Village restaurant Ngam. And, if you really want to go the extra mile (literally), go to Queens and eat at chef Duangjai Thammasat’s Ayada in Elmhurst or Sripraphai in Woodside.

New York Openings: Mission Chinese and Pok Pok Come East

It says more about New York’s reputation than it slights the West Coast that two beloved Asian outfits, Portland’s Pok Pok and Frisco’s Mission Chinese, have taken their talents eastward. Pok Pok NY, the Thai standout from notably un-Thai chef Andy Ricker (of Vermont), opened last month on the Columbia Street Waterfront (the original Pok Pok will continue its tenure as a Stumptown establishment). Ricker made a soft debut in March with Pok Pok Wing, a dorm room-sized munchie spot on Rivington.

While his new space grew in proportion with the cross-borough move, it will pack in just as close given the steady lines outside. Stuffed hen, crepes with PEI mussels, and a spicy minced pork salad using a recipe inherited from an 84-year-old Thai man are standouts. The entire menu is thoughtfully annotated with hints and recommendations (e.g. Khanom Jiin Naam Ngiew: “Hard to say, easy to eat.”). The dream of Andy Ricker is alive in Brooklyn.
Back on the island of Manhattan, San Francisco’s semi-ironic dive Mission Chinese has opened up a branch on Orchard Street. Maybe chef Danny Bowien wanted more convenient access to his pal Martha Stewart’s studio, or maybe the Food Bank for New York City needed more love—75¢ of each entrée goes to the charity. As Martha notes, Bowien hadn’t cooked Chinese food before starting up at the Frisco shop, but his lamb cheek dumplings, kung pao pastrami, and thrice-cooked bacon with rice cakes don’t report to General Tso anyway. The Twin Peaks-meets-dragon-paraphernalia interior is tight, but it’s open ’til 2am on Fridays and Saturdays, so feel free to stumble in when you’re feeling charitably saucy.
Joan Didion, in an early essay on New York, laments that after her relocation from the West she knew she didn’t belong here because she wasn’t from here. But after spending half her adult life in New York, she’s just as good an example as any that if you can make it here, well. You know. 

New York Openings: Pok Pok NY, Parish Hall, Ken & Cook

Pok Pok NY (Cobble Hill) – Portlandia export with drinkable vinegars, killer Thai wings.

Parish Hall (Williamsburg) – Egg peeps dedicate a whitewashed hall to Northeastern cuisine.

Ken & Cook (Nolita) – Breezy "industrial brasserie" rocking creative pastas, super-fresh raw bar.