Don’t get it twisted, Uncle Boons is not your Monday night Thai take out spot. Though it is a casual neighborhood joint serving Thai fare, you won’t find a 10 page menu listing varieties of noodles and curries mixed with your choice of chicken, pork, or shrimp, and you won’t find them on Seamless. Not that there’s anything wrong with those places, there’s a time and place for sure. We’re just here to give you a heads up that Uncle Boons is something entirely different.
It’s different in the sense that you’ll find things on the menu here that, despite that you “eat Thai food all the time. Pad Thai is your fave,” you may have never seen before. Things like Mieng Kum, Pla Muuk, Kao Pat Kuk Kapi, and other items that you simply point to and say “this one” when the waiter takes your order.
The difference with Uncle Boons is the chefs. Married duo Ann Redding and Matt Danzer met at Per Se, which, if you don’t know happens to be one of the most esteemed restaurants anywhere, so it’s safe to say they know how to cook. But why Thai? Well, Ann was born in Northern Thailand and grew up in a family of cooks, and after only one mangosteen and a few bites of Chiang Mai sausage, Matt hopped on board. They agreed that they should be eating the stuff all the time and have been giving customers a taste of Ann’s home ever since. It’s time we introduced them to you.
Where were you born?
A: Udon, Thailand
M: Riverhead, Long Island
Coffee or Tea?
Chang or Singha?
What are you craving right now?
A: A cheeseburger
M: Fried eggs
Favorite place in the world?
M: Innsbruck, Austria
Summer or winter?
Sweet or Savory?
A: Definitely savory
Red Curry or Green Curry?
A: Depends on my mood
Let’s start with the question everyone wants to know. Who is Uncle Boon?
ANN: Uncle Boon is my actual Uncle in Thailand. Although we named the restaurant after him, it was actually inspired by my entire family in Thailand– my Grandmother, my mom, 5 Aunts and two Uncles.
It’s no secret that there are some funky items on your menu that call for ingredients you probably can’t find at Trader Joes? So where does one find betel leaves and banana blossoms in NYC?
ANN: There’s a lot of crossover ingredients in Thai and Chinese cuisine and luckily we are just a few blocks from Chinatown. We’ve been lucky to have met a few Thai purveyors as well whom are bringing in Thai produce from Florida and Hawaii where the weather is more suited to tropical produce. My Aunt Jaoi who lives in Virginia has basically turned her entire backyard into a farm and grows Thai Vegetables. She travels around to the local buddhist temples selling them as well as shipping us up hard to find ingredients like Pea Eggplant.
You met at Per Se, but I heard you never really cooked together there. So how did you end up joining forces?
ANN: After work beers at The Coliseum (the go to bar after a long shift.)
Per Se isn’t exactly a go-to spot for ethnic eats, to say the least. How (and why?) do you make the transition from classic French cuisine… to this?
ANN: For me, it’s close to my heart. I was born in Thailand and lived there when I was young. At that time, most of my family made a living from selling food or vegetables from my grandmother’s farm at the market. I come from a long line of Thai food vendors so it’s kind of in my blood.
MATT: The first time I traveled to Thailand with Ann to visit her family I was blown away by the flavors. I had never had Thai food like that back in the states. We had been discussing opening a restaurant together for some time but never in a million years did Thai food even cross our minds. After that trip, it just hit us and became very obvious.
Let’s talk spice. Anyone who’s been to Thailand knows that authentic Thai food can be spicy. REALLY spicy. Do you tone down your flavors to appeal to a wider audience at Uncle Boons? Or is it the real deal?
ANN: Spice is so subjective. There are some Thai dishes that are super spicy and there are others that are really mild– it just depends on the dish and also personal preference. We serve a range dishes from all spice levels. We don’t tone anything down to meet a wider audience but do prefer to keep our flavors balanced.
What’s the most common misconception about Thai food?
ANN: That everything is spicy. That Pad Thai and Green Curry are pretty much it. Don’t get me wrong, I love both but there’s a lot more to Thai cuisine. And also that Thai people use chopsticks for everything.
Other than Uncle Boons, what are your favorite places in the city to get ethnic bites?
ANN: Baekjeong is pretty fun.
MATT: Los Tacos #1 in Chelsea Market.
What do you miss most from Thailand, and what’s the first thing you do every time you go back?
ANN: My family. Cooking dinner with the family in the outdoor kitchen and catching up is pretty great.
MATT: Eat my weight in mangosteens.
What’s the best thing on Uncle Boons’s menu, if you had to choose?
ANN: Can’t do it. Like picking a favorite child.
Photography by Vanessa Granda for Taste The Style