Thai brothers and chefs Ohm and Chaht Suansilphong, along with co-owner Jenn Saesue, opened Fish Cheeks in 2016, and it quickly became a favorite for seafood aficionados and Thai food fans as well as Pete Wells, the New York Times restaurant critic who gave it two stars.
Lately, the restaurant has been brewing some big things: Fish Cheeks has expanded their room, with design help from Space NY, to include a large bar for cocktails and small bites. And they hired executive chef Dustin Everett, formerly of Pig & Khao and Momofuku Ssam Bar.
After spending the early days of the pandemic opening pop-ups in Long Beach Island and upstate New York, Everett started looking for a restaurant where he could settle in. “I wanted to be back in the city, and I wanted to get back to cooking southeast Asian cuisine.”
Everett’s background is in cooking Asian fusion, after all, with influences that include Filipino, Vietnamese, and, yes, Thai. But since getting the job at Fish Cheeks, Everett has expanded his education. “I’ve spent time with our food runners and staff from Thailand and ate at some great traditional Thai restaurants in Queens,” Everett said. “I focused on learning everything I could for the first couple of months so I could understand what Fish Cheeks and its food was all about.” He’s planning to eat his way through the country before the year is over.
Everett plans to focus on seasonality. You can see glimmers of that in the vegan corn salad with cherry tomatoes, long beans, garlic, and lime, and the pak boong, a generous side of garlicky morning glory — also called water spinach — with bird’s eye chili and soy bean.
Thai dishes you won’t see on every other menu in town include pork cheeks marinated in fish sauce with fried garlic and prawn karee; shrimp stir-fried with curry, scrambled egg, scallion, and roasted chili paste. Homemade traditional drinks, like Thai tea and Pandan iced tea, shouldn’t be ignored.
The crab fried rice has been a staple of the Fish Cheeks menu since they opened, and with good reason. It’s made with jasmine rice that has been dried out overnight, then gets fluffy and savory with the addition of juicy crab meat and soy sauce. The garlicky nam jim seafood sauce and tangy prik nam pla on the side amp up the flavor, and you can order extra (highly advisable!).
“I’m very excited about the months ahead,” says Everett. “We are going to be adding plenty of seasonal dishes and new things. I never want the menu to feel stagnant.” He plans to keep the staples like the crab fried rice, “but always feature new items to keep everyone excited about the food.” So far, it’s working.