1/2 Silent H? It’s a cute conceit and a welcome restaurant. But my first thought when I heard the name was the word pho and you totally use the H in that (though there’s no American consensus on how to pronounce the soup. I’d heard like foot without the T and far without the R but if you don’t say it like faux then half the time people have no idea what you’re talking about. There’s a fine line with native English speakers going overboard in the name of authenticity. I feel kind of retarded saying Chee-lay for Chile, so I don’t). It’s definitely not po.
I’ve never understood why Thai food so dominates gussied up parts of Brooklyn while Vietnamese has been relegated to ethnic status. That’s not the case in Manhattan. I would think that Vietnamese has broader appeal; it’s not spicy, it’s lighter than a lot of popular S.E. Asian food, relying on steaming and grilling (never mind the deep fried spring rolls—I’ve always been most fond of cha gio as far as the wrapped, stuffed and fried Asian canon goes).
We waited about 15 minutes around 9pm, not bad for a Saturday night in a small new restaurant. Within an hour the room was jammed up. Oddly, we were the only ones who’d brought beer (it’s BYOB for the time being). Apparently, Williamsburg is a wine-loving crowd. It did feel a little funny sitting at a bar, drinking your lugged in beverages.
The décor is sparse, woody and muted–nice on the eyes but a bit stiff in execution. The older I get the more I notice comfort, not that I’m ready for a pair of Rockports but awkward seating seems more glaring lately. To be fair, I’m abnormally imbalanced and stools always traumatize me. But I’m tallish for a female and I had a hell of a time hopping up on my perch. It was like being up on a horse and I hate horseback riding. After being seated, I had a view of all the low-rise exposed asses, one with non-offensive floral underwear (not thong) sticking out, and one full bare butt flash with a good three inches of crack hanging out (you could practically fit a kielbasa banh mi in there). Another downside to stools, if you ask me. Amusingly, I just found a Flickr photo of the setup but they've featured guy asses, which tend to remain covered for some strange reason.
We were eventually given an end table for two, which was lucky because two-seaters bookend a four-seater that is impossible to get in our out of without making a huge production. One long bench lines the wall, while backless, stubby stools face the table. The distance between tables is NYC narrow, so even the world’s skinniest human can’t squeak by and pulling the table out barely helps matters. It made me nervous that they were seating two parties of two at one table for four Chinatown style. (I was very disturbed on my first visit to Chicago last month to see that they have side-by-side seating on their subways, like a movie theater. That’s totally insane to expect that during rush hour people are going to get up to let people off and on. And as human nature goes, when it was less crowded singles invariable sat on the aisle seat so it felt nearly confrontational to try and take the inner seat.)
Looks are one thing but practicality has to be taken into account with restaurant design. I really enjoyed the place, awkward seating was my one non-food beef. James’s was the price. I didn’t think they were outrageous but I could agree with his assessment that two bucks could be shaved off of most items and you’d feel better.
Our beef carpaccio was skimpy for $9 (forgive my messed up camera setting–I'm still figuring out this camera). I thought $6 for three taro, pork and shrimp stuffed spring rolls was fair, though. The raw beef strips were very limey, maybe lemongrassy, and nicely spiced. Both appetizers were likeable enough but my pork chop over broken rice was amazing. Maybe I was hungry because initially it seemed like a lot of food, then I managed to eat the whole thing. I wasn’t expecting hardboiled egg and cucumber, that seemed very Malay in a good way. The complex tasting caramel sauce is what makes the dish. The amber liquid is essentially a shit load of sugar cooked down with garlic, fish sauce and lots of black pepper, and sums up all that’s rich, pungent and homey about Vietnamese food.
James had the crepe with chicken and shrimp, which nods more to the fresh, herby side of the cuisine. He was smarter because I was so full of beer and pork by the end of the meal that it took me a few hours before I could drink properly. That’s when gin and tonics seem to work magic.
Silent H * 79 Berry St., Brooklyn, NY