A Star Is Born, and Then Tested, at Uncle Boons in NoLIta


When the Michelin Guide handed out its famous stars in late September, among the new one-star recipients was Uncle Boons, an animated and unpretentious Thai place now in its second year on Spring Street in NoLIta. Owned by Ann Redding and Matt Danzer, a married couple who met while working at Per Se — Thomas Keller’s Columbus Circle restaurant, which has three Michelin stars of its own — Uncle Boons offers rowdy Thai cuisine in a kitschy ambience of shadowy light and vintage movie posters where your waiter might turn out to be a moonlighting Muay Thai kickboxer. Upon hearing the Michelin news, the restaurant promptly posted a message on Twitter that read, in part, “Totally humbled and proud this morning.” It also prepared itself for a surge in clientele, including, last week, a collection of curious young people who work in the restaurant industry.

IN THE SEATS Five friends who met at the Culinary Institute of America and now work in various restaurant jobs: Felice Cunningham, 22, a waitress at Aureole (one star); Kristina Preka, 23, a garde-manger cook (meaning she helps prepare cold appetizers) at Eleven Madison Park (three stars); Amelie Kang, 23, who is planning to open her own Chinese place next month specializing in hot pots; Nick Wasicek, 25, a waiter at Rebelle (another new one-star recipient); and Jake Weinberger, 23, a bartender at North End Grill.

ON THE PLATES A shared and extensive feast that started with an order of the Heavenly Pig Ears ($5), which had a whiskey and chili glaze; the frog legs ($14), with a garlic-soy marinade, glass noodles and a Thai herb salad; the curried snails ($12), seasoned with crispy garlic and herbs; an order of the roti flatbread ($3); the sweetbreads, served with a crispy noodle salad, peanuts and dried shrimp ($15); a grilled seafood plate of octopus, prawns and yellowtail collar ($29); the crispy duck leg in a soy anise broth with caramelized orange, grilled scallions and duck egg ($25); and the prawns with red snapper and mussels over rice noodles and steamed egg ($25). All of this was washed down by a pitcher of tamarind margaritas ($48) and a few icy concoctions known as beer slushies ($7 each). “We wanted to see what they had to offer,” Mr. Wasicek said. “And what better way than to pretty much eat everything they do offer.”

WHY THEY CAME Ms. Kang saw that Uncle Boons had been awarded its Michelin star and figured it was the perfect time for a visit. So she rounded up the old Culinary Institute crew, two of whom — Ms. Preka and Mr. Wasicek — are her roommates in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and two of whom — Ms. Cunningham and Mr. Weinberger — are dating.

WHAT THEY TALKED ABOUT The food, of course. Ms. Preka found the flavors to be bold but not discordant, each one taking its rightful place in the dishes. “It’s all very complex, but not too complex to eat,” she said. Mr. Wasicek concluded that the mix of salty, sweet and sour was nicely balanced, adding, “Everything tastes like it’s supposed to.” After Ms. Kang weighed in on the atmosphere, and Ms. Cunningham praised the music — Jimi Hendrix meets 1950s tiki bar — Ms. Preka seemed to have had enough of shoptalk, saying, “We should probably talk about how much more we want to drink now.”

Source : The New York Times