Pad thai is like the green apple martini of Thai food. They’re both very sweet and accessible versions of the food category that they represent. It was one of my first cocktails ever (thanks Sex and the City!), and I thought the Jolly Rancher flavors were amazing, although now they’d make me gag. Same with Thai food, my first exposure to it was through pad thai. The rice noodles were sugary and saucy, and again, I loved it. Most people tend to move on to other things after a few tries, which is probably for the best.Read More
There’s a necklace that I really love that I have no use for. When I bought it at the time, it was so interesting and distinctive that I fell in love with it. But outside of that moment, I’m not quite sure what to do with it. it doesn’t quite match any of my outfits, and in order to wear it, I’d have to build a new wardrobe around it. So now it just hangs out in my jewelry box.
Mr. Donahue’s, a tiny little restaurant in Nolita run by the Uncle Boons team, reminds me a lot of that necklace. It’s extremely quirky and charming but so very strange. I know I liked being there, but I wouldn’t know when to go back. The place is tiny, with 6 bar stools around a counter and two small dining tables. It’s physically set up for meals with quick turnaround, but they’re serving proper dinners, so given that plus the tight space, it’s not quite right for a date night or a small group dinner. The atmosphere is also a little odd, it looks like an old time ice cream parlor from the 1950s, but it’s cranking out diner staples like fried meat and roast beef and serving them on porcelain plates and doily place settings. Plus there are some subtle Asian undertones in the seasonings. It all made me scratch my head a little bit.
It is a very random place, and like rummaging through the sales bin at a thrift store, you”ll stumble upon some key finds in a sea of knick knacks. Some things in our loot that we were very happy with–the nutty gazpacho soup, the pickled beets with candied walnuts, the creamy gnocchi covered in chives, and the very fun to say and also fun to eat pattypan squash parm.
The sides surprisingly were more memorable than the mains that were advertised. The chicken fried pork cheeks tasted like a standard cutlet, while the bland broiled porgy was puzzling. The server said that the fish was underutilized, and now I can see why. I was pretty envious of all the roast beef platters around me. It seems like this is the way to go in terms of mains. And an impulse buy that worked out really well for us was the fantastic banana rum pudding that we ordered for dessert.
Like my necklace, Mr. Donahue’s will always be in my back pocket when thinking about where to go to eat. I’ll always wonder about it and consider it in the realm of possibility, but its randomness and quirks will hold me back sometimes from actually going there. But when I do tip my toe in the water and take it out for a drive, I’ll be very happy that I did.
203 Mott St (between Kenmare and Spring St)
New York, NY 10012
Uncle Boons is a fun name to say out loud. Like saying the words boom, boondoggle, or T. Boone Pickens. An uncle named Boons wouldn’t be dull or boring–he would be the life of the party, someone who would pull coins out of your ear and give you some ice cream money. Imagine your delight when your fun uncle from Thailand just informed you that he would be moving to NYC!
Uncle Boons, or rather his restaurant, has set up shop in Nolita. I’ve been to Uncle Boons’ house, and it is beautiful. If you’ve ever been to the Jim Thompson house in Bangkok, it basically looks like that, except on a smaller scale. Like the bar and basement section of one of the six houses in that massive complex. Which is fine, because it makes for a much more intimate and familial setting.
And Uncle Boons is cooking up some good food at his house! Well, let’s give credit where it’s due. It’s not really Uncle Boons who’s doing all the work. His niece Ann Redding and her husband Matt Danzer are doing the actual cooking, and their menu features recipes from the whole family. We decided to kick things off with an order of the lon pu kem, and then dove right in with two larger plates, the kao pat pu and the khao soi kaa kai.
The lon pu kem is a cold dip made of salted black crab, ground pork and coconut cream. It’s served with various vegetables such as Thai eggplant, snap peas, sliced mangoes and radishes. I really liked the pungent fish flavors that came through in the dip, but I wasn’t a big fan of eating it with the raw vegetables. I think something like nori crackers or bread might have showcased the flavors a little better. Ruoxi thought that it tasted like tuna salad. You can safely assume that we thought the dip was good but not great.
While I wouldn’t go on a second date with the lon pu kem, the kao pat pu (crab fried rice) and the khao soi kaa kai (golden curry with egg noodles and chicken) had me at hello. Especially that crab fried rice. I could eat this everyday, for reals. Move over Mission Chinese’s salt cod rice, there’s a new fried rice queen in town! It really does taste homemade–made at home by an awesome member of the Uncle Boon family!
Going off on a tangent here, but Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese was eating dinner next to us at Uncle Boons. I wonder if he felt shame knowing that his celebrated fried rice is a sham and Uncle Boons’ is so much better? I tried to let him know through telepathic messages.
The khao soi was unbelievable too. The curry was creamy and savory, without being overly heavy or salty like at a lot of American Thai restaurants. This dish came with a small cup of spicy chili oil on the side; just a smidgen gave the perfect amount of heat to the curry. Little Serow, take notes! The crisp egg noodles nicely absorbed the moisture and flavor of the curry, and the tender curry-soaked nuggets of chicken were delicious. I regret not ordering a bowl of jasmine rice to soak it all up. This dish was breathtaking, and not in a Seinfeld sort of way.
The only bone I have to pick with Uncle Boons is the pricing. For two entrees with modest origins, a small appetizer and two beers, our meal came out to $50 a person. Uh yeah, that’s a little steep. I think $30 a person is more appropriate, but maybe the two owners’ Per Se upbringing is shaping their pricing decisions. The $25 price tag on the crab fried rice is stopping me from ordering it as take-out all the time. The food here is quite delicious. I just wish rich Uncle Boons would be a little more generous!
7 Spring St. (at Bowery)
New York, NY 10012