In an era when retrograde restaurant types like diners and luncheonettes are being dusted off and repurposed, who’d be surprised that supper clubs would be next? Cecchi’s is very much a supper club in the old mold — like the ones upstate from the midcentury and from the West Coast and Wisconsin, with their cushy booths and long meals over steaks, homemade sides, and ice-cream desserts — but Bangkok Supper Club, open only a few days, is taking the formula along uncharted paths. This restaurant related to Fish Cheeks — but more ambitious — is located at 841 Hudson Street, near Horatio Street, in a lonely corner of the West Village.
The decor has a ’60s feel, with its wicker-back chairs and Jetsons-style light fixtures. Walls and accents come in shades of orange and brown, and Naugahyde booths wrap around tables, imparting a clubby quality. The lighting is dramatic yet subdued, illuminating a series of seating areas beginning in the front window under a neon sign, passing a lively bar where the cocktail glasses clink, then a waiter’s station in island form, before arriving at an open kitchen where chef and Bangkok native Max Wittawat presides over a menu that concentrates on Bangkok street food with innovative twists.
The garlic fried rice ($35) is to die for. Instead of the usual choice of chicken, shrimp, or pork, slices of seared hog jowl are fanned on top, and the powerfully flavored rice is strewn with crunchy pig skin. Satays undergo a similar transformation, with a pair of shell-on shrimp grilled over smoky charcoal and then planted on a thick coconut curry-cashew sauce, shining a brilliant orange color. This fundamental Thai dish really does feel like it was flown from the streets of the Thai capital, and herbs ride shotgun on top.
Isan cooking, popular in Bangkok, features all sorts of sliced and slivered meats as drinking snacks and salads, but I’d never seen beef tongue on a Thai menu before. Here, called lin yang ($23), it has been brined in lemongrass and gingery galangal, then grilled and sliced. The texture is divine, every bit as good as a Mexican tongue taco, but possessing those sharp, citrusy, and slightly fishy northeastern Thai flavors.
A fried or boiled egg is often a bonus ingredient in Bangkok street food, but in yum khai dao it grabs the spotlight. A duck egg fried to perfection — the albumen browned and crinkly along its circumferential edges — sticks up from a salad of tomato and extra-sharp Chinese celery. The dish is flavored with cured and crumbled egg yolks; tiny orange trout roe add to this avalanche of funky flavors.
The tongue, shrimp, and duck egg are from the small plates section of a menu that is supper-clubby in its simplicity, consisting of only 16 dishes in two categories. A second section is devoted to larger plates, but there are no snacks, bread courses, or desserts, and no sides to speak of (with the exception of charred purple cabbage, which was unavailable on our visit).
Also like a supper club, the most prominent dishes feature steak and seafood. There’s a NY strip steak ($48) with a roasted tomato that we didn’t try. But we did order the whole branzino ($45), which arrived boneless and flattened, with the skin imperially crisp and the flesh pale and fluffy. It seemed a bit strange that there were no accompaniments other than a zippy green relish (white rice might have been appropriate), but Bangkok Supper Club is a place that resists carbs for the sake of carbs.
The signature cocktail of the traditional supper club was the Old Fashioned, which could often be made in a dozen different ways: sweet or dry, with bourbon or with brandy, and with potential garnishes that included dill pickle, olives, pickled mushrooms, and artichoke hearts. Here, the cocktail list is every bit as elaborate, but with invented examples startling in their composition.
The waiter enthusiastically recommended truffled pandan ($20), which included, according to the menu, “gin, fat-washed truffle oil, apple juice infused with coffee and thyme, herbs, pandan syrup, [and] malic acid.” This may sound like too many flavors, but sporting a delightful pressed ice cube and edible flower, they magically melded together into a drink futuristic in its elusive flavor, with truffle notes fading into the background.