It’s a clever name: Easy Tyger. So clever that my dining companion repeats it over and over again when the server visits our table, and not just the words, but the intonation of the expression. The food arrives swiftly – “Easy, Tyger,” my friend says as the server places the first couple of plates before us.
Fortunately, my friend loses interest in trying to be funny here at the restaurant named Easy Tyger, and we both grow engaged in putting our forks to work. And much good work these utensils are put to, at this Brady Street venture focused on small plates. The cuisine is a thematic departure for owners Nini Buranabunyut and Dear Panyasopa, who run the Thai-namite locations (including one near Easy Tyger). Some plates have an Asian focus, but head chef Evan Greenhalgh is more interested in thinking globally, spinning traditional dishes of all kinds by incorporating unlikely ingredients, like farro instead of rice in a boldly flavored Korean bibimbap – a dish that was offered on an early menu. Greenhalgh’s motto is not to let the menu stagnate with the same choices. So expect plenty of flow. On any given day, you can build an international smorgasbord – for instance, with pork belly, ginger basmati rice and Thai peanut curry on one plate, salt and pepper calamari on another, and Jamaican jerk wings bringing up the rear.
The problem with small plates is that they’re, well, small, and become past-tense quickly. But these dishes are worth slowing down for. Among the best is fried pig ear nachos, the crispy ears tossed with sliced radish, pickled chilies, cilantro, lime crema and grated cotija cheese. Two others that are wowing from a flavor standpoint: Korean pancake with fried oyster mushrooms and sake-glazed rutabaga; and tempura-ed shisito peppers and broccolini with kabayaki sauce, yuzu salt and fresh lime.
The beef steamed buns – brisket char siu with oi-sabagi (cucumber kimchi), daikon and spicy radish – are a great, lick-your-fingers treat. They are excellent in tandem with the goat cheese gnudi (dumpling) with butternut squash puree, roasted Brussels sprouts, roasted tomato and brown-butter vinaigrette. The gundi – along with plates like cider-soy braised beef short ribs with broccolini and Asian pear – raise these “small plates” to moderately priced entrée level. Generally, two plates are plenty to satisfy one diner.
The dishes we tried showed zeal coming from the kitchen. What’s more: A major interior overhaul after the former occupant – Mai Thai – moved out removed the island spa motif, opening up the kitchen, moving the bar and brightening the colors and lighting system. (The one caveat was the decibel level – fun for singing along with the bartender, but not for chatting with your dining companions.)
Brady Street already offers another good small-plates restaurant, Balzac, just a few blocks away. Still, there’s always room for good food. And that, coupled with the energy of this place, should help Easy Tyger carve its own niche in the neighborhood. ◆
1230 E. Brady St., 414-226-6640.
Hours: Dinner daily. Brunch Sat-Sun.