By Mark Hokoda
87 2nd Ave (@ E. 5th Street) NY 10003
Tel: 212.260.8018 212.477.5700
Kurve, the loungey, pink-on-pink Thai spot in the East Village, has careened through more than its share of harrowing curves. After an on-again-off-again launch last year came a menu overhaul, some brutal press and, if all that weren’t enough, a historic economic collapse.
So Andy Yang, the chef and co-owner, wants to set a few things straight. First, look past the eye-candy decor. This is an authentic Thai restaurant, he insists, no less so than his popular Rhong-Tiam. He seems peeved that some knock the sleek, space-age Kurve while praising its more traditionally appointed sister restaurant. “I am the chef at both,” he declares, and though he’s now at Kurve every day, he has thoroughly drilled Rhong-Tiam’s kitchen staff in his approach to the cuisine.
For Yang, the heart of authentic Thai cooking is technique. This means the ingredients of, say, pad thai are not to be tossed together all at once—as most restaurants here do it, he laments—but instead must be added one at a time, producing a perfectly cooked dish alive with the “breath of the wok.” This also means no aspect of preparation is too trivial to warrant close attention. “Everybody who squeezes a lime here has to taste it,” he says.
What authentic Thai cooking is not, Yang argues, is timeless and unchanging: His country’s culture, including its cuisine, has embraced ideas from abroad since the days of King Chulalongkorn, who shepherded Siam into the 20th century.
So despite a few raised eyebrows among reviewers, Yang maintains that specialties like his decidedly non-Roman spin on spaghetti carbonara—with chiles replacing black pepper, and bacon replacing guanciale—aren’t out of step with a Thai menu. This dish, its fire tamed by a touch of egg and cream, is even popular in Yang’s native Bangkok.
In the same cross-cultural spirit, Kurve’s hamburger combines wagyu beef with cheese and shiitakes on brioche; the Thai accent comes from basil and a piquant chile mayonnaise. It’s a hit. Other, more orthodox favorites include the egg-swaddled pad thai “omelette” and whole dorade, marinated, steamed and grilled in banana leaf.
The current Thai offerings represent a course correction for Kurve, which debuted with a less focused pan-Asian menu that included sushi. Sushi, after all, is how many diners got to know Yang, in his earlier gigs.
But he had something else in mind at Kurve: combining a real Thai kitchen with a serious, seasonally changing cocktail program. To that end, Sasha Petraske, the mixologist behind Milk and Honey, White Star and the new Dutch Kills, was enlisted to concoct drinks incorporating Thai-friendly ingredients, including fresh juices. The Nillson Fizz, for example, is a refreshing sparkler of aged rum with coconut, lime and elderflower cordial.