Zak Pelaccio ought to teach business-school classes on restaurant branding. Through more trial than error, he's forged a formidable empire of "Fatty" establishments---Crabs, 'Cues and Snacks in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Virgin Islands---different enough from one another to make all of them interesting, but still recognizably sprung from the same DNA.His new Fatty 'Cue, in the West Village, builds on the successes and failures of what came before it---in this space and others---replacing the increasingly rudderless, off-brand Cabrito with his most ambitious restaurant to date. It's a new Fatty flagship, the sexiest of the bunch, with more elevated food, service and drink.A once grungy cantina has given way to an urban supper club, with cozy nooks and warm lighting. The new facade, featuring shuttered windows and imposing castle-keep doors, projects an air of exclusivity. With hip-hop on the stereo and bottles of booze on ice wheeled up to the table, the place could pass for a hot new club---Fatty Lounge---but the bottle service, based on a Thai model, won't max out your black card, and the downtown crowd has gathered here not to dance, but to eat.Pelaccio and his Fatty Crew---as he's taken to calling his coconspirators---have unveiled a menu notable for its balance and breadth. This is the first of the Fattys that won't give you gout if you eat there too much.Some of the food is in fact remarkably delicate, like the cured arctic char---a sort of Southeast Asian gravlax rubbed in palm sugar, coriander and cardamom, among other aromatics---the pink petals served with house-made crme frache and roasted baby beets. There are light salads, too, for passing around---family-style service being a hallmark of the Fatty brand---including a zippy spin on a classic Caesar featuring red Russian kale tossed in a tart, creamy dressing of anchovies, egg yolks and fermented shrimp paste.There's also barbecue, as you'd expect there to be---roasted lamb, sticky pork ribs, excellent smoked fatty brisket---but the new Fatty 'Cue isn't a barbecue joint. And there are challenging dishes from Southeast Asia, like the delicious, pungent Thai-style sour-fermented pork sausage (cured for three days at room temperature), or the intensely fragrant napalm-hot Isaan duck larb (compulsive and painful). But this is not a restaurant for daredevil diners only.More-familiar comfort foods are represented, too, rescued from ubiquity with a fresh approach. The kitchen sends out bread and butter that is actually worth paying for---warm pretzel rolls with very fine Virginia ham and very funky whiskey-soaked aged Vermont butter. And the pork belly here is unlike any other, house-cured and smoked, slow-braised and fried, then served in thick slices like Chinese char siu under a gorgeous sweet glaze of palm sugar syrup. Instead of fried chicken there's a whole golden bunny, subtly steeped in Southeast Asian flavors (lemongrass, galangal, shrimp paste) and served, like Dominican chicharrons, in big, succulent hunks.You'll find the makings here of a well-rounded meal---and one that for once doesn't lose steam at dessert. Pelaccio and crew have given a young pastry whiz, Micah Phillips of short-lived Compose, free rein in devising the first full-fledged Fatty cheese and dessert program. His modernist creations, pillaging the Southeast Asian pantry, feature literally dozens of ingredients---tamarind pudding swaddled in chai and sesame smoke with vinegar ice cream and sweet pickled juniper; spiced chocolate cake with buckwheat, pink peppercorns and Thai chilies; artisanal blue cheese crumbled on buttered brioche and jackfruit puree. They're strange and surprising---and mostly delicious---and like the decor, drinks and vibe here, welcome improvements to a very smart brand.
VitalsEat this: Pretzel bread with aged butter and ham, cured arctic char, fried pork belly, duck larb, fried rabbit, blue cheese with jackfruit Drink this: The quirky cocktails include the delicious sweet-sour Smokin' Bone ($12), made with bourbon, smoked pineapple and a touch of Tabasco. The innovative bottle-service program, a good deal for big groups (375ml bottles start at $65 apiece), is available only at tables with room to roll up a cart. The bottles are stored in glass cases above them.Sit here: If you're planning to hit the booze hard, request a bottle-service table when you reserve. Otherwise, the small tables across from them are just as cozy. The barstools, which get crowded with diners, are also a great place to eat.Conversation piece: Zak Pelaccio, who has moved from hands-on chef to big-idea guy, hopes to expand his Fatty brand to Philadelphia and Boston, among other locales.