The hit chef behind Lower East Side hit Pig & Khao is bringing an irreverent new restaurant to the border of Chelsea and Koreatown — with cross-cultural creations like a cheese-slathered pho French dip sandwich with Thai basil and onion spread.
Leah Cohen, who made her name after appearing on Top Chef, is opening her second NYC restaurant Piggyback NYC, at 140 W. 30th Street, near Seventh Avenue, tonight. Unlike her Southeast Asian restaurant, Piggyback is more of a pan-Asian restaurant with dishes inspired by Cohen’s travels through Asia over the years.
Dishes take inspiration from food in Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Thailand, to name just a few places Cohen and her husband and business partner Ben Byruch have traveled to for recipe research and development in recent years.
Options like the pho French dip gather from several cuisines: Thinly sliced cheesesteak meat gets stir-fried and dunked in a pho broth. Cohen then puts it all on a hoagie with French onion spread, jalapeños, and Thai basil; she then melts provolone cheese over the whole concoction. There’s also a shrimp toast okonomiyaki, a mix between the Chinese dim sum dish and the Japanese savory pancake, and wantan mee, a take on a Malaysian noodle dish that comes with char siu pork, wontons, and pickled chiles, all served in a broth.
“I don’t really create dishes thinking about the region,” says Cohen. “If a dish is great, I want to bring it back to my restaurant.”
There’s also an extensive drinks menu from Ben Schmitt, with wine, several beers on tap, and cans of beer that are both local and from different regions in Asia. Cocktails include drinks like bars for days, which has tequila and gochujang syrup; and mercenary’s revenge, which features Pandan leaf extract and rye.
The pan-Asian influence in the food translates to the restaurant space as well, which seats 100 people and has an industrial look with exposed brick walls and a tin ceiling. The neon lights pull from thoroughfares in major Asian cities, like Nathan Road in Hong Kong and Yaowarat Road in Bangkok. There’s also a mix of old newspaper clippings on the wall in different Asian languages, movie posters of American films released in those countries, and vintage ads. Byruch, who designed the space, describes it as “60s and 70s New York City mixed with someone’s grandmother’s basement.”
There are also plans to open a separate space known as the Way Back Bar, which is only open for private events for now.
Pig & Khao, the couple’s first restaurant, opened in 2012 and quickly earned two stars from Times critic Pete Wells; it was part of a group of restaurants like Mission Chinese, Pok Pok, and Talde that were dubbed “hipster Asian restaurants.” Cohen and Byruch also opened a Jersey City restaurant Piggyback Bar, though they are no longer involved with it and say their new restaurant is different.
Piggyback NYC, located just a few blocks away from Madison Square Garden, opens tonight at 5 p.m. Regular hours for the spot are 5 to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 5 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, with lunch and brunch coming soon.