The team behind seafood-focused Thai hit Fish Cheeks is venturing into Brooklyn for its next restaurant — except this time, owner Jenn Saesue and chef Ohm Suansilphong are going far more casual.
The duo is opening a stall called Chicks Isan within Dekalb Market Hall, serving the chef’s favorite Thai street foods. Colorful meals representing the Thailand’s Isan region — an area bordered by Laos and Cambodia where ingredients like dried chiles, tamarind, and lime reign — will center the restaurant. The kitchen will be helmed by Suansilphong, who will now split his time between the food hall and Fish Cheeks, he says. It’s part of a potential bigger expansion plan for the team.
The signature dish, an Isan-style grilled chicken, will come marinated in garlic, turmeric, and coriander root. Some hits from Fish Cheeks like grilled pork cheeks seasoned with fish sauce and fried chicken wings smothered in a “Dorito-like” seasoning made with chile, lime, and mint, according to Saesue, will also appear on the stall’s menu.
But plenty of new dishes will be served, too, like spicy short rib soup and crispy rice salad with sour pork. Everything on the menu is meant to be eaten with a side of sticky rice and papaya salad, Suansilphong adds. See it in full below.
Isan food is the chef’s personal favorite, he says, because it’s “easy to eat” food that’s found in street carts all over Thailand. It’s far more casual than the seafood dishes he’s now cooking at Fish Cheeks, which take more time to prep and make, he says.
At Chicks Isan, prices mostly stay within the $9 to $15 range, with rice costing $3 and vegan coconut ice cream going for $3.50 per scoop. As for drinks, Thai iced tea and coffee will be on tap for $4.
Saesue opened the colorful Noho restaurant Fish Cheeks in 2016 with brother-chef-duo Ohm and Chat Suansilphong. Ohm worked at the critically acclaimed Nahm in Bangkok before coming to NYC, and Chat spent time working with celebrity chef Tom Colicchio. Soon after opening, Fish Cheeks received a star from the Times for “fresh, vivid and intense” cooking. It remains constantly packed even two years later.
The new food stall is a way for the group to begin growing its footprint in NYC, the team says.
“We don’t want to open a restaurant yet because we’re a very small group, and I think a place like Dekalb is a good stepping stone for us,” Saesue says. “We don’t have to put in a lot of money, and there’s not a lot of overhead we have to worry about.”
They plan to use both kitchens to train and educate chefs that are interested in studying Thai food, and as the team grows, more restaurants could follow, she says.
The fast-casual spot opens Monday, December 17, on the basement level of 445 Albee Square West in downtown Brooklyn, where the food hall with 40-plus vendor lies. Chicks Isan will be open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.