Zak Pelaccio's smoky spinoff of his wildly successful Fatty Crab restaurants in Manhattan is a Southeast Asian take on barbecue, with influences from Malaysia, Indonesia and Viet Nam. Opening partner/pitmaster Robbie Richter has moved on. The space is funky, with the small bar area seemingly the only room in the joint, but the split level layout has three other intimate seating areas. Fatty Cue uses a variety of smokers.
Broken into sections based on size, shareability and degree of exotica, the menu at Fatty Cue swings closer to a Latin tapas restaurant than your typical barbecue joint. Snacks (maxing out at $13) include smoked bone broth with galangal, smoked catfish nam prik, smoked lamb ribs and pork ribs, coriander bacon with yellow curry custard and a bowl of noodles. Specialties (mostly $20 and up) feature fish, clams, brisket, pork shoulder with cherry glaze and pulled lamb shoulder with goat yogurt (alas, there's no pulled goat shoulder with lamb yogurt). Sides are mostly Asian and large enough to share.
Well spaced visits hit Fatty Cue for a Saturday dinner and a Sunday brunch.
Bone broth with tiny celery: The combination of the smokiness with intense meatiness (even though there's no meat) struck me as the overture before the main event. I'll probably order this every time.
Coriander bacon: On the dinner visit, this was served with pullman toast and yellow curry custard. The toast isn't buttered; instead it's rubbed with a thin layer of master fat (a refreshing change and no fattier than butter). The bacon was crisp, tasty and very fatty. I didn't get much of the coriander flavor here, but it was enjoyable with or without the custard. On the brunch visit, the coriander bacon side ($6) brought no acoutrements and was less crisp and more fatty. It was okay, but Fatty Cue's coriander bacon wound up being my least favorite dish of the meal both times.
Lamb ribs: I like how the lamb ribs ($13) are cut into smaller pieces for sharing. I also really liked the contrast of crispy crust and juicy, tender interior. And of the balance of light sweetness, smokiness and gaminess of the meat. They were more than a little fatty, so less is more with these ribs. But they're very good and a must-order item.
Smoked duck: The golden meat and crisp skin provide instant ooh-and-ah factor before the plate hits the table. I'm a huge fan of the appealing contrast between the exterior and interior textures, so the duck at Fatty Cue was a delightful treat. Add pleasantly smoky, intensely flavorful inner meat, throw in some free flowing juiciness and you have one of the best duck presentations I've ever tried. Fat was again noticeable, but much less so than with the lamb ribs. A smoked curry dipping sauce added some heat, but this duck was fine all by itself.
Pork ribs: Meaty pork spare ribs ($12 for two) twice had a nice crust from both the smoking process and a light glazing of the sauce. Before smoking, they're brined using another version of the sauce. These arrived unsauced, with a shallow pool underneath: a thin sweet and sour sauce made from palm sugar, brown rice vinegar and fish sauce. Both servings had a high smoke level and plenty of flavor in the meat. On the evening visit they were noticeably fresher, with the brunch rendition still satisfying but a fairly obvious reheat. For six dollars a bone, the freshness should be guaranteed.
Brisket: Served with bao (a soft, puffy, crustless bread), chile jam and an assortment of other condiments, the smoked brisket ($26) combined fairly traditional barbecue cooking methods with a Southeast Asian supporting cast. The brisket itself was tender enough to be cut into thick chunks, each with a pink smoke ring, a crisp crusty edge and just enough fat to keep things moist. The bright flavors of the pickled vegetables, cilantro and chile jam helped cut the fat and paired well with the smokiness. The airy bao bun was another good foil, melding nicely with the more rugged beef.
Pulled pork: The Sunday brunch menu is the only chance to try Sunday Pig ($19), a complete, integrated dish which on my visit presented smoked pork shoulder, baby bok choy, scallions and three bao buns for sandwichmaking. This dish made up for the ribs and then some with its supreme freshness, crisp exterior, perfectly bouncy interior and addictive lubricant that I'm guessing was lime juice, sugar, chiles and fish sauce. Smokiness was light; favor was off the charts.
Smoky Johnson burger: Also ordered at brunch, Fatty Cue's spin on the all-American burger ($11) merged an ecclectic, high fat beef blend, Manchego cheese, mustard aioli and a brighter-than-bright Asian condiment. I loved the sharpness of the cheese, which had a great mouthfeel even unmelted. That and the herbal condiment elbowed the beef out of the way flavorwise, making this burger more of an interesting experiment than something I'd order regularly.
An addictive table condiment was a thicker, sweeter and hotter offshoot of the rib sauce made with red chile peppers, palm sugar, brown rice vinegar and fish sauce. If Fatty Cue sold this, I'd buy at least a few jars.
You won't find baked beans, mashed potatoes and collards here; the vegetable sides may be the most Asian part of the menu. Celery ($6) is a nice vegetable dish to lighten the heaviness (okay, the fattiness) of the 'cue. Cucumbers ($6) are another cooling, refreshing counterpoint to the meat. The brunch visit's Bowl of Noodles ($12), served with an Asian soup spoon bearing smoked sriracha, was competently prepared and quite tasty, but should have been no more than half the price.
The Bottom Line
Between the year-long wait prior to opening and the star power of its principals, Fatty Cue generated immediate interest, whether you want to call it press, buzz or hype. I'm in the camp that says Fatty Cue has lived up to the hype, but not without a few speed bumps along the way. Sure, it's a little expensive, but I'd argue that the quality usually justifies the pricing here. Still, I can see someone thinking the tab adds up more quickly than you can fill up.
As for categories and labels, I'd much rather just avoid them. If forced, I'd classify Fatty Cue as an Asian restaurant that uses barbecue techniques; whether or not that makes it a barbecue restaurant I'll leave to the semanticians. The flavor profiles are far from classic American barbecue, but I like the high smoke levels and the smoked meat textures. Pairing the meats instead with a bold, bright Asian flavor palette is more than just a gimmick here. The execution is usually solid and often brilliant.
New York Times review of Fatty Cue
New York Times recipe for Fatty Cue ribs
New York Magazine review of Fatty Cue
PigTrip's Fatty Cue First Visit Recap
Yelp reviews of Fatty Cue
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