You know you're at a restaurant preview when the name of the place is still being painted on the storefront. So it goes in the fast-paced world of Chef Michael "Bao" Huynh who has opened so many restaurants in New York City that the Times devoted an entire article to how he's able to proceed at such a rapid pace. Last night I joined a hundred or so other food bloggers, members of the press, and friends of the house, for a preview party at OBAO, the latest addition to Huynh's ever-expanding empire. It's located on an East Midtown block that's home to two Japanese restaurants, two Indian joints, a Peking duck specialist, and a Korean spot. Fitting site for a restaurant whose menu includes interpretations of Cambodian, Filipino, Laotian, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Singaporean, and Thai dishes.
Representing Cambodia, the Khmer style pomelo salad ($10) with bibb lettuce, herbs, chili peppers, coconut and crispy shallots sounded quite intriguing. Sadly like many other items, including the equally intriguing curry puff ($8), stuffed with duck liver and confit, it was unavailable that night. Curry puff with duck liver and confit! I'll be back for more than a few of those.
I'll also be back for OBAO's spin on pad see iew ($10), a Thai noodle dish. Huynh's version is a Korean-Thai mashup with kalbi replacing the thin strips of meat normally seen in the dish. Oh, and he spikes it with what sounds like something a Korean grandma who spent time in India would make: green mango kimchi. There were small plates like crispy spring rolls ($7) and a delicious ox-tail pho with an amazing depth of flavor.
Myself and my fellow starved journalists thronged the narrow corridor outside the open kitchen as Huynh and his crew churned out plate after plate of these gigantic pork belly skewers. Crunchy skin coated with a slightly sweet, slightly spicy glaze, encased fatty chunks of belly. They were the hit of the night.
These sugar cane skewers ($9) were pretty good too. OBAO opens to the public Monday.
222 East 53 Street, New York NY 10022 (map) Phone to come