The moment you step into Pig and Khao, your sensations are overwhelmed by the pungent smells of fish sauce hanging heavy in the air, intensified by the kitchen cooking fiery Filipino fare out in the open. Oh yes, this is another NYC Asian hipster restaurant, but not for the faint of heart. If you’re up for the challenge of braving the sensations of cilantro, curry and pork in all forms, pull up a chair at the cool kids’ table and enjoy the company of chef Leah Cohen’s bold cooking. Those seeking light, mild flavors need not apply–take a back seat with the other wallflowers.
The space at Pig and Khao is small and dimly lit, reminiscent of a hip yet low-key lounge. Such an atmosphere inspires libations, and we opted for the Tiger Lager, figuring the beer would pair well with the highly seasoned and hearty meal. The portions at Pig and Khao are structured to be served tapas-style, meaning it’s in your best interest to order several plates and share them with a group of friends. We ordered the green mango salad, the renowned sizzling sisig, the khao soi noodles and a bowl of coconut rice.
The food at Pig and Khao is very solid, but perhaps the flavors could be more distinctive or a bit more elevated. Take the green mango salad as an example. While traveling in Thailand, I looked forward to having this as a starter. The clean, crisp taste and texture of the salad was a great antidote to the fiery flavors that followed soon after. The salad at Pig and Khao, however, wasn’t as light as I had hoped. And the charred chicken, while well prepared, seemed a bit too Western in preparation and hence out of place in a Filipino dish, and only served to weigh down the salad.
Pig and Khao excels at the really bold, ambitious dishes. The signature sizzling sisig dish is truly outstanding. The dish comes out with great fanfare–chopped up bits of pork head and a fried egg crackle and pop atop a burning hot iron plate. The heat and smell of charred meat are certainly intoxicating, and the sensory experience of tasting rich, crisp crackling and fatty pork pieces wrapped up in a savory egg is a pleasurable one. I also enjoyed the khao soi, which is basically a delicious, creamy red curry and coconut milk noodle soup, but I would recommend that you pair this with some white rice. The khao soi on its own is too dense and heavy, but drizzled over some rice, it is absolutely to die for.
Filipino food has yet to break into the Asian culinary mainstream, but Leah Cohen’s restaurant is well positioned to kick down some doors. With such pungent smells and tastes, it’s more of chaotic let’s-roll-up-our-sleeves-and-try-something-interesting place as opposed to a date place or a girls’ night out spot. Which is fine, because your more high-maintenance friends might judge you for stuffing your face with pork, but really, they’re the ones missing out. Let’s keep the dinner to Pig and Khao, and no other co.