I never venture anywhere near Grand Central Station in my daily life. And
while I find the notion of their new dining concourse mildly interesting,
it's not the sort of thing I'd go out of my way to visit. However, last week
I'd spent a freezing day in New Haven, was hungry and tired and eager to
taste test the Vietnamese sandwiches at Nem. Especially since I'd just had
an authentic version the week before and the taste was still fresh in my
The food looked fresh, as far as fast-ish food goes. It also looked
interesting. Cute, plastic, almost-real looking models of most dishes were
on display (I love that stuff). But I was there for one thing only–the
sandwich. They had all sorts of foofy versions filled with grilled shrimp or
chicken. Pork is what a banh mi is about so that's what it had to be.
Theirs was described lovingly as freshly baked bread, pate, cucumber,
carrots, daikon and cilantro. Now the sandwich looked good, it even tasted
good, but this was not a banh mi. This was really more like a large panini.
I swear the bread was ciabatta, when a good old fashioned cheap French roll
usually suffices. There was no heat to speak of, no jalepenos, no spicy
sauce. The pork was not sweet and barbecued, but grilled and sliced into
strips–the char lines were visible proof.
I think anyone new to the world of Vietnamese sandwiches would have no
complaints (except the darn thing was soggy after the hour subway ride home.
I've kept real banh mis in the fridge overnight and they're fine the next
day). And while the $6.25 ($6.77 with tax–they don't even charge tax at the
other joint) price in not ridiculous by Manhattan standards, especially in a
train station, knowing that I could have two and half authentic sandwiches
for the same price made me wonder a bit. The staff was all Asian
(Vietnamese? who knows), everything was clean and efficient, but who needs
that sterility when you can get the real deal. Having said that, if I were
to find myself in need of food in Grand Central again, I wouldn't be opposed
to trying Nem. (1/24/01)
No more Nem, and it has probably been that way for years yet I only
noticed a few months ago. (7/8/05)
Nem* 43rd & Lexington, New York, NY