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Posts from the ‘Vietnamese’ Category

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Oregon, Better Late Than Never



Mae. I was reluctant to eat at a Southern food pop-up in Portland. Who needs it? (I would be more interested in a Pacific Northwest pop-up on the South except that there isn’t a distinct cuisine to speak of.) But it was one of the highlights of my trip; very vegetable-focused, light when it needed to be (chilled zucchini & buttermilk soup with sweet pepper relish, cherry tomato, and sumac-toasted pecans and lingerie beans, flame nectarine, pickled chantrelles, purslane with brown butter vinaigrette) hefty when it was required (chicken fried in three fats–no idea which). And I will never again underestimate the power of biscuits slathered with Duke’s mayonnaise and topped with nothing more than heirloom tomatoes and bourbon barrel-smoked salt. At $65 (suggested donation) for ten courses (was too busy eating to take photos of them all) and BYOB I would consider it a great bargain, though in Portland that means you’ll be sharing a table with some wealthy middle-aged Bergen County transplants and siblings from Eastern Oregon of mysterious means (and a dubious relationship) one whose child with a septum piercing will be going to Harvard in the fall. I was the only teenager-free diner at the table (even my boyfriend has a daughter going to the cool downtown public high school, which everyone approved of) and when the sister from Pendleton made everyone state their favorite movie, and wouldn’t let up after I demurred, I was like maybe I’m a poor conversationalist? No matter, when there’s pickled ramp pimento cheese to be eaten.


Nodoguru. $125 ticketed omakase that sells out in minutes. It was all right. Something about it felt off for Portland, not that I’m critiquing quality or creativity.  I just couldn’t get excited because I’m a jaded monster.


Pizza Vendor. Totally the break-out hit of this trip. With its straighforward name and no reason to go unless you happen to already be in Scappoose identity, it suited my needs just fine. It’s the childhood pizza of your dreams, half-and-half if you please, lots of cheese, thin, chewy, and puffy cornmeal-dusted crust, except that now you can get pitchers of beer instead of root beer and I still can’t figure out how what seemed like six-pints worth of some local IPA was only $6.99. Bon Appetit had recently declared Pizza Jerk, a take on East Coast pizzerias, one of America’s Best New Restaurants despite it being closed due to a fire. Magically, it reopened two days before I was to head back to NYC. I had planned to hit it on the way to the airport but went back to Pizza Vendor instead.


Hat Yai. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Portland Thai food. There are all sorts of interesting niches being filled despite the Thai population being practically nonexistent. The shtick is Southern Thai in a fast-casual format with cute branding. Fried chicken, lightly battered in seasoned rice flour encrusted with fried shallots and sweet chile sauce is featured and I tried a combo with a big buttery roti and chicken curry, not exactly a light lunch. I kind of love that there are six straight liquors for $6, soda an extra $1.50 (though I’m sure that’s considered overpriced since a majority of cocktails in Portland are still sub-$10) as I’ve been on a tequila and soda kick (so I can pretend I’m not a lame as a vodka soda-drinker). Sometimes I think I will move back to Portland and then I see middle-aged foodie dudes with goatees setting up elaborate photo shoots (was under the impression this was a blogger of some consequence) who pronounce prix fixe, pree fixay, and I’m all nope, I would just be too mean for this town.


Urdaneta. Stopped in for a snack because I was wandering around the area and recognized the name as something newish and ended up ruining my appetite for the $5 Little Bird happy hour double brie burger I had planned on later. Complimentary pimenton-spiked chickpeas and a sweetbread-topped pintxo would’ve suited my needs fine. The tortilla was substantial, gilded with Idiazabal and sherry aioli, and I couldn’t stop eating it.


Pine State Biscuits. I’ve been before. It was close to my Airbnb.


Giant Drive-In. There’s a shingled A-frame practically in the backyard of the apartment complex my mom and stepdude are now managing. No, it’s not a destination but I would recommend the big, fun (Hawaiian!) burgers and homemade shakes even if you lived a little more than walking distance.




Cedar Plank Buffet. We gathered 10 family members for a Sunday brunch buffet at Spirit Mountain Casino because nothing is too good for my mom’s 66th birthday. Fried oysters, smoked salmon, biscuits and gravy, lemon meringue pie, french toast, and bacon is just all a part of the deal.

Mountain View Sports Bar. Oh, and a late night sports reuben that I carted around from my mom’s to Scappoose because I’m gross and can’t toss food. I can’t remember if this was before or after the mushrooms and Keno (my sister is a hippie) but it was ok because we stayed overnight, no driving.


Coyote Joe’s. Weird that I would encounter biscuits three times in two days because biscuits aren’t particularly Northwesty.


San Dune Pub. An oyster po’ boy with local Willapa Bay oysters. See? New Orleans appropriation.


Little Big Burger. I completely forgot I ate this.


An Xuyen. Banh mi, only $1.49 more than the ’90s. Best sandwich under $3. The owner/cashier was so damn chatty I thought the line of customers behind me were about to kill us, yet when I looked up no one gave a shit.


Pho Van. Part of a mini Vietnamese empire. Solid pho. No, I did not make it to Rose VL Deli.


Shut Up and Eat. My grandma is into this food truck-turned-brick-and-mortar restaurant and I’m half-convinced it’s simply because of the name. The Italian sandwich contained a little more roughage than I’m accustomed to.


Ixtapa. The waiter was all, “I put habaneros in your food,” I guess to get a reaction, but I was all “ok…” That’s humor in Scappoose. The combos are crazy cheap and you won’t feel weird for ordering a chimichanga. That’s all you need to know.


Shari’s. The last two times I’ve been (2x in one year is more than I’d been in two decades) they did not have my first choice or second choice pie. YMMV. They always have tots, however.


Eaten, Barely Blogged: Seattle Take 2

seven beef trio

Seven Beef Sometimes I go crazy, especially when time is limited, and this was a purely social long-weekend trip, not a food-focused mission. Originally, I reserved at this newish pseudo-steakhouse with a vague Vietnamese undercurrent because it seemed interesting and was walking distance from my Airbnb in a residential neighborhood, but then Bateau, seemingly more serious, also doing in-house butchery and serving lesser known cuts of locally raised beef, started getting buzzy (and Renee Erickson has since won a James Beard for best chef Northwest) so I scrambled to switch, only to get an 8:45pm slot, which would be fine anywhere else but is late-ish by NW standards, but more detrimentally because I’m a sweaty, anxious person, was the fear that only super expensive, non-optimal cuts of meat would be left, plus I already tried attached Bar Mesuline in January so I knew the vibe. So, back to Seven Beef where I didn’t even end up ordering steak but the namesake bò 7 món tasting. Big hunks of meat definitely seem to be the thing here–on a packed Saturday night I didn’t notice any other tables opting out of steak–but something must be done with all of the extra bits, hence lots of sausage (there is also a popular burger, which I totally would do for happy hour if I really lived four blocks away). You start with a beef salad with pickled vegetables and then there’s an onslaught including vinegared beef carpaccio and grilled sausage three-ways (lemongrass-skewered, wrapped in la lot leaves, and laced with five spice) served with fresh herbs, lettuce, and sliced fruit. Congee with meatballs and shrimp chips caps off the meal. It’s totally a deal for $40 per person, especially if you’re into variety and not married to the idea of eating a whole rib-eye. I also ordered fries because it was a birthday dinner and why not?

ian's on the hill pizzas

Ian’s on the Hill If you need any further proof that this was not a food recon trip, I ended up with Hawaiian and taco pizzas, the result of missing my reservation at Vito’s (loved the atmosphere so much last time that I was open to eating lasagna despite being an unabashed Italian-American disliker) the first night due to barfing that started at noon in the car service to JFK and lasted 12 hours, the exact thing that happened when I flew to Seattle three months ago and makes me think I should maybe never go back to Washington or ride in a car. Despite all the Caviars and Ubereats and Postmates that keep on coming and Seattle ostensibly being a tech city, food delivery isn’t much of a thing outside of NYC in my experience. I wanted pizza and this was one of only two options on Seamless. #seamlessinseattle, yes. Oh, I’m just now seeing that this is a Wisconsin-based chain. Even while nauseous yet hungry, I had the right instincts. 

ma'ono trio

Ma’ono Fried Chicken and Whisky I was recently asked what quintessential Seattle food was. “Is there a Primanti Brothers of Seattle?” Uh, no. Dick’s is an icon but that’s just burgers. An argument could be made for teriyaki. Hawaiian food is also relatively big in the Northwest considering the islands take as long to reach by plane as NYC. I just wanted some fried chicken. Here, it’s a thing big enough to reserve birds ahead of time. It just happened that brunch was a meal I had free, so I got the morning version with biscuits and gravy and maple syrup. A half order, so wonderfully crisp and crackly that it held up two days later, is plenty for two. If you want to die, feel free to also start your day with spam masubi and a fancy loco moco (Basil-mint chutney? Wood-grilled ground chuck?). I didn’t realize exactly what sort of place this was until my bloody mary arrived with a pickled sunchoke garnish. Now you know.

elliot's oysters

Elliott’s Oyster House Touristy doesn’t have to be bad even though there’s a lot of crap on the waterfront. I can’t speak to the rest of the menu or long waits for tables, but sitting at the small bar watching more than 20 varieties of regional oysters being shucked while drinking Oregon pinot gris is not crappy. You might even get a few freebies tossed in with your half-dozen.

charlie's monte cristo

Charlie’s on Broadway Finally got my damn West Coast monte cristo. What makes a monte cristo West Coast, you ask? It can’t be an open-faced abomination served with maple syrup. Raspberry jelly all the way. That’s it. These wedges were so perfectly battered and fried that the layers of turkey, ham, and swiss had nearly melded into one with powder sugar-dusted bread, giving a cake-like impression. It seems like it needs fries as to be less naked on the plate, not out of caloric weakness. Apparently, Charlie’s was recently redone after a closure, yet it still looks like a ‘70s fern bar, i.e. my kind of joint, so there’s that.

aoki chirashi

Aoki serves sushi that is neither fast food nor luxurious nor loungey and sharing a menu from other Asian nations. That’s not a simple ask for a spur of the moment choice in Capitol Hill. I just wanted some solid chirashi and got it.

honey hole sandwiches

Honey Hole I’ll admit I went just because that name? Walking past the nondescript facade a few storefronts down from a Babeland this winter, I automatically assumed it was a gay bar not a sandwich shop. And a good one at that. My dining companion also wanted the Liotta (an Italian sub with quality ham and salami) which warmed my heart to discover we have similar tastes in sandwiches, but I don’t allow parties to order the same dish, so a Corleone (no, the names are not all Italian though there is a Chachi’s Favorite) which sounded like a baguette reuben by description but was so pastrami-forward that it tasted more like a deli sandwich even minus the rye bread. I also consumed a coffee cider (local brewery unknown/unremembered–there is no evidence of this creation existing on either Schilling’s or Seattle Cider Company’s sites) which might be the most Northwest thing ever. I’m still not convinced those two beverages are meant to be one.

cheesecake factory duo

Cheesecake Factory My cross-country rendezvous was with someone who had never been to a Cheesecake Factory and hasn’t drank for the past 25 years, which is to say after 60 hours living my way there was serious malaise the final day in Seattle. And brutally, there was a huge block of time to kill between the Airbnb check out (even at an unusually civilized 1pm) and my 9:50pm flight. Being a near-90 degree day (as I currently sit in gray, damp 50s NYC) we did the only sensible thing and headed to the suburbs, specifically an upscale ghost town mall in Bellevue for good air conditioning. After paying $9 to take a nap in a completely empty movie theater across the escalators from a comedy club/pool hall/ping pong lounge and not sleeping because Boss, the lesser of evils playing at a workable time, ended up being more stupid-funny than expected (I literally LOL’d just because I could in this impromptu private screening) it was time to choose among the chains. P.F. Chang’s almost won out, and  I’m still curious about non-chain Tavern Hall, which has the post-millennium, upwardly mobile young adult trappings–Sazeracs on tap, shuffleboard, brunch–I would normally go nuts for. At Cheesecake Factory, which went from dead to completely filled during our stint, I loaded up on pre-flight fat and dairy with their version of crab rangoon, a bacon date pizza, plus a slice of salted caramel cheesecake. Even eating less than half of all that ended up feeling like a very bad idea. One must go out with a bang. That’s the rule.

Nothing like a roaring fire in full-on sweat weather

Nothing like a roaring fire in full-on sweat weather

You know you're in the Northwest when there's Dale Chihuly hanging in your mall

You know you’re in the Northwest when there’s Dale Chihuly hanging in your mall


I never thought I'd be eating Vietnamese food next
to Western Beef on the Brooklyn-Queens border. The regional chain's
Metropolitan Avenue flagship–sprawling, no nonsense, with a large selection of
Latin American, Caribbean and Eastern European products–has always been my
favorite NYC grocery store since I first moved to the city, i.e. Ridgewood (barely
qualifying as The City) fifteen years ago. (It's where I took my photos when I
was inexplicably featured in Elle
a few years back.)

Western beef limes
Sixteen limes for $2? Come on.

Western beef european specialties
European specialties may as well be big plastic
bottles of Russian beer.

Western beef quarter waters
There is even a house brand of quarter waters (and
malta–too gross to show).

Bun-ker street view

The organics showed up not too long ago, and then I
braced for my canary in the coalmine: Fage yogurt (Chobani always hits first,
sitting alongside Tropical and Yoplait). What I didn't anticipate were niceties
creeping up outside the gate. Step out of the parking lot, turn to your right,
and Bun-Ker is embedded in the neighboring industrial strip like a daytime-only
sandwich stand, previously the only food in the immediate area. I do not bemoan
this breed of gentrification.

The only thing keeping the small restaurant–it
seats twenty at best–from being impossibly packed is the long haul from the nearest
subway, the Jefferson L and general lack of additional nearby attractions
(there are some Bushwick bars). I don't expect the same person spurred to try hinterland
banh xeo to be excited about hanging out in Western Beef's meat locker.

Bun-ker crab spring rolls

Crab spring rolls are one of five starters and semi-healthily
satisfy an urge for fried food. The accompanying cilantro, mint and Thai basil add
fresh herbal notes and crab is lighter than the ground pork you more commonly
find mixed with glass noodles and stuffed into these shells.

Nothing is flashy either. Producers aren't
name-checked, but you know you're eating something more carefully thought out
than at one of the many interchangeable Vietnamese restaurants in old Chinatown
or Elmhurst. (Seeing bo bo chicken made me feel guilty about the factory-farmed
chicken thighs–and skirt steak and pork shoulder–warming in the car trunk
while eating.)

Bun-ker suon nuong xa

The slices of pork loin, not chops, in the suon nuong
xa, are straightforward. Lemongrass shines through, though it's the char from
the grill stands out.

Bun-ker bo luc lac

Bo luc lac a.k.a. shaking beef comes with a watercress
salad, a traditional combination. (I've heard this is sometimes served with
french fries in Vietnam, sort of steak frites, sort of lomo saltado. All I know
is that I want it.) Once again, I was enamored with the smokiness, and how the seared
cubes, super tender, got sweetness and crunch from the crushed peanuts and
fried shallots.

The menu is relatively brief, sticks to familiar dishes
without being rigidly classic; the vegetarian banh mi features havarti and
smoked gouda and there's a Thai massaman short rib curry. Part of me would like
to see a few lesser-known offerings (then we could call it the Vietnamese Pok
Pok) but the more I think about Bun-Ker, the more feelings it gives me–swayed
by context, admittedly.  It would just be
likeable, not remarkable in the East Village or Park Slope (and more expensive). Scrappiness lends some charm.

Bun-Ker * 46-63 Metropolitan Ave., Ridgewood, NY

Me & My Egg Roll

Earlier this week I spied a shocking development on the corner of Court and 2nd. I’m surprised I noticed it at all because normally during my home-to-subway walk I’m zombified but speedy (more 28 Days Later  than Walking Dead) rarely noticing anything in my path. There was no doubt about this, though. Even I could see that Me & My Egg Roll, the Chinese takeout place with the best name for miles, had not only re-opened its permanently gate-down, lights-out dining room, but was now advertising Vietnamese sandwiches and bubble tea on a crisp new awning.

Me & my egg roll awning

When I moved to Carroll Gardens (last week I realized I’m one-month shy of seven years, far longer than I’ve lived in any one place in my adult life. No wonder I’ve become so burnt out on the neighborhood despite the fondness everyone else in the city seems to have for it) I never would’ve anticipated a banh mi shop appearing around the corner. I’d given up on convenient tacos (do not try convincing me that Calexico and Oaxaca serve real Mexican food) and Vietnamese sandwiches after leaving Sunset Park in 2004.

Better late than never. And just because I declared a banh mi ban in 2009, doesn’t mean that I’m not happy to finally have the beloved sandwich being made four blocks from my apartment. Luckily, this work-from-home snow day coincided with their opening, so I could pop over during my lunch break.

Me & my egg roll interior

I can’t say if they’ve redecorated the dining room filled with about eight-to-ten four-seaters because I never got a good look at the dim space before (I’m fairly certain that when I did first move here, you could still dine-in).The room is utilitarian with recessed ceiling emanting colorful glowing light and a few pendant lamps for good measure, but not dreary like sitting in the one or two plastic booths you might find at your corner takeout spot. A twosome who appeared to be a middle-aged son and mother were sipping coffees (the woman asked the man if my bubble tea was a smoothie, which reminded jaded me that decade-old Taiwanese trends aren’t a part of everyone’s word) out of paper cups, a younger man was eating in and waiting a bit for his food like I was and a lot of passerbys stopped to peek inside.

You can order from the Me & My Egg Roll menu (I’ll admit that when I’m in the mood for Chinese-American takeout I choose Wing Hua because they’re the only ones who serve crab rangoon) or the new one, which devotes most space to drinks—37 of them—five sandwiches and three resolutely American salads.

Me & my egg roll banh mi

Banh mi are $5 apiece, which is fair (you don’t want me to tell you about how they were only $1.50 in Portland a million years ago again, do you?) and falls between Chinatown and contemporary Vietnamese in Manhattan pricing.

Me & my egg roll house special The house special was good for an opening day sandwich. One of the staffers admitted that they were still getting it right. Most of the components were there: lunchmeats, cucumbers, pickled daikon and carrots, cilantro, ground and bbq pork, mayonnaise… but the balance skewed a little sweet, maybe from a sugary pickling liquid and thickly sliced char siu. What it lacked was chiles and the pate, both mentioned on the menu. A little heat and creaminess would’ve added more dimension. Sriricha is always on my shelf, so that was easily rectified. The bread was fresh and pliable with a little chew, though not particularly crackly. Given the neighborhood, it’s probably Italian bread, not a traditional French baguette.

I realized the taro bubble tea was a mistake after I got out the door. The mauve beverage filled with brown orbs draws attention. Also, I needed my arms for balance while trudging through slippery piles of slush and navigating single-file paths carved out of feet of snow (not easy with the amount of dog and stroller traffic in the area—I really don’t enjoy playing chicken with strangers in the slush).

Me & my egg roll bubble tea

I tried squeezing past two boys, shovelers for hire, and one turned to ask me something. Oh no, I read enough police blotters to know that kids are always punching people and snatching their iPhones (I’m more concerned that they’ll discover that I only have a Cliq XT and punch me harder because it’s such a piece of shit phone).

“Where did you get that drink?” he said.

Oh, right, everyone’s into food these days. “Um, at the Chinese place down the street, Me and My Egg Roll,” I replied.

“So, it’s like a milkshake?” he asked.

“Yeah, I like it,” I said and then wondered why I said I like it instead of answering the question. I guess bubble tea is like a milkshake. Did he really need me to go on about Taiwanese tea being co-opted by Vietnamese and now sold by Chinese in Brooklyn? No, that deserves a punch.

Now I wonder if the kids who have been known to eat monochromatic fried combo meals from Styrofoam containers (and get into altercations with the staff) while gathered outside Me & My Egg Roll’s takeout door, will start asking for milkshakes.

Me & My Egg Roll * 407 Court St., Brooklyn, NY


Financial District Baoguette

When I spoke to the unstoppable Michael Huynh for this Metromix year-end trend piece, he was envisioning Baoguette as the new Subway. And sure enough the  still-rough-around-the-edges storefront in the Financial District is just a few spaces over from a Subway. Five-dollar foot-longs had better watch out.

In the nearly three years I've worked way downtown pho has been high on my list of edibles missing in the neighborhood. I think I would be more jazzed if we hadn't been barraged with so much Vietnamese food this year. It is still a novelty in the Financial District, though. My only other venture to a Baoguette, the one on St. Mark’s, involved the beef soup not banh mi and it wasn’t half bad. Now that it’s brutally cold, soup seems smarter than sandwiches. But it wasn’t to be. Even though pho is on the menu, it  isn’t being served yet. They did have some prepared summer rolls in the refrigerated case, but it’s hard to get excited over the chilled cylinders as long as it's wintry.

Baoguette exterior

The brown awning with an air conditioner punched through bore the Baoguette name held in place by blue tape. The long-necked lighting wasn’t having a good time either. Inside, the dry erase board on the wall was still shiny and unsullied. Same with the chalkboards above the counter. Rows of goldenrod Café du Monde coffee cans and full bottles of green-tipped Sriracha were the only design elements.

My old hard rule about $5 lunches shifted to $6 somewhere in the recent past and even that gets broken at least weekly for a Pret a Manger salad. Even those pick-a-mix salads where short little guys toss it in a plastic container for you come in around $7. It doesn’t mean I make a habit out of it, though. But hey, I had a little Christmas gift cash burning a hole in my pocket. I could spring for the $7 for a catfish sandwich…just this once.

Baoguette catfish banh mi

The flavors were an untraditional mishmash (honey mustard and sweet pickles?) not dissimilar to certain swampy Thai curries. I only saw a few jalapeño slices and no obvious red pools of Sriracha, but mouthfuls were hot, a dirty spicy that was compounded by the catfish’s natural earthy taste and tempered slightly by the strands of pickled red onions and sweet cucumber relish. I liked it more than I thought I would.

Baoguette catfish banh mi cross section

The catfish sandwich is akin to Num Pang's (which I never blogged about, oddly) and in some ways is preferable to me because I like a drier sandwich and this one uses honey mustard while the Cambodian one bulges with mayonnaise. It’s hard to disassociate honey mustard from chicken fingers, but the condiment wasn’t that jarring, just tangy. I only recommend not trying on candy apple red lip glosses at Sephora on the corner right before biting into one of these sandwiches.

Baoguette does serve better food than the than closer-to-my-office banh mi cart and both charge $6 for the traditional Saigon sub (though I notice it’s only $5 at the Christopher St. Baoguette/Pho Sure while the catfish is $7 at both). I’ll likely return to check in on the pho at some point but as long as it’s in the 20s outside I’ll probably just walk the one block to the cart instead of the seemingly long (lots of tourist-dodging–I’ve given up on politeness and now barge through everyone’s posing in front of the Stock Exchange photos) five blocks to Maiden Lane.

Baoguette sign

Clearly, I’m not the only one who likes appropriating The New York Times' banh mi cross section photo.

Baoguette * Maiden Lane, New York, NY

OBAO Preview

In 2006 I worked a block from where OBAO, Michael Huynh’s latest venture, is scheduled to open on Monday. The immediate area has shaped into a multi-culti lunching paradise (Güllüoglu, Barros Luco, Mantao Chinese Sandwiches) or maybe it just seems better in comparison to the Financial District blandness I’ve grown accustomed to. And I shouldn't complain so hard, we're getting a Baoguette down here.

Obao lamb, beef on sugarcane & pork belly

Based on the sampling at OBAO’s preview party, there is high promise. The grilled cubes of pork belly were a little sweet with nice char and good balance between the meaty and fatty bits. Lamb chops were coated in chopped lemongrass and tasted like they’d been marinated in coconut milk. Instead of shrimp paste, thin slices of beef were wrapped around sugarcane. Bacon too. Why had I never thought of that?

Obao satay & shrimp roll

Shrimp rolls and chicken satay were perfectly fine renditions, but couldn’t compete with the oomph of the pork, lamb and beef. Or maybe I just have a preference for the fatty.

Obao soup

I think this was a pho. It definitely was pho-like, but the poached egg threw me off.

The unknown element will be the noodles, which weren’t showcased at this event. I’m crazy for laksa and can’t decide if the non-traditional green tea soba noodles as they are touting will be a welcome tweak or just weird. Will the char kway teow also be an Asian hybrid? I’m sure I’ll get the answers soon enough.

Obao exterior
I imagine the signage will be complete and the garbage bin removed by opening day.

OBAO * 222 E. 53 St., New York NY

Banh Mi Cart

1/2 I'm not sure if the banh mi cart is getting more tolerable—they hand out numbers when you order now—or if the misty weather kept people indoors for lunch, but around 2:02pm there was only two people waiting for sandwiches and one woman in line ahead of me asking staff (a whopping three, two men, one woman), "What should I order?" She was steered toward the classic #1. I'm a strict #1 gal, myself, but following right behind the clueless eater I didn't want to seem like a lemming and went wild and got the meatballs instead.

Eh, should've stuck to my guns. The meatballs were delicate and springy, turning into a soft near-spread when pressed between the baguette. They were definitely spicy yet somehow under seasoned and bland.

My only real pet peeve (because I must have one) is that they seem to have stopped cutting the sandwiches in two. I need petite halves for at-desk nibbling. It's just not ladylike to be seen with a dripping meatball-filled hoagie while at work (on my free time, sure). I also noticed jerky on the menu (and no shrimp cocktail). (6/10/09)

The crowd is very manageable at 2:30pm, no more than a few minutes wait. No problem for a late luncher like myself. I did notice that they raised the price to $6 since my last visit way back in early 2009, which kind of breaks my self-imposed $5 and under lunch rule. But still, $6 isn't outrageous in this neighborhood and I brownbag it 70% of the time anyway. Also, now have a pork fu and eel sandwich, 11 styles in total. (5/11/09)I was excited to hear that the city’s only banh mi cart had moved even closer to my office, only about three blocks away on the corner of Pearl St. and Hanover Sq. It’s a sad state of dining affairs down here so little things mean a lot.  But Friday there was a huddle of about 12 people in front of the cart at 1:30pm. I’m not patient in the best of circumstances so unorganized, non-lined up clumps of customers was too much for me. I’ll go later next time and see how things play out. (5/8/09)

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Ba Xuyen

Some foods gain universal adoration and acceptance, despite once being obscure. I understand why banh mis have such a stellar reputation. I’ve loved the mixed up sandwiches ever since I accidentally stumbled on a $1.50 Portland version what seems like a lifetime ago. I had no idea what it was at the time but the idea of something called a French sandwich in a Vietnamese takeout joint was too incongruous to pass up. I was hooked.
And they’re still a value at $3.75 in Brooklyn, even if that’s 75 more cents than my last posting on the subject. I forget the bounty of Sunset Park and really took living in the neighborhood for granted. Who knows, there might come a time when I look back fondly on the so-so Thai and French I’m surrounded by now. Perhaps I should soften my stance.

I don’t think I’ve had a Vietnamese sandwich once in 2008 and broke my dry spell this afternoon at my favorite, Ba Xuyen. And I hate hyperbole, but I swear the #1 was better than I remembered. I’ve experimented a bit and bought a #4 meatball for James, but I like the more is more approach. I also prefer everything bagels over plain or single ingredient.
Maybe because I’ve been eating lighter recently, but the one thing that struck me was how rich the pate was, like they added a little more than usual and mixed with the slightly sweet mayonnaise, created a new velvety condiment. It might’ve been overwhelming if it weren’t for the pickled carrots and daikon and jalapeno rounds lending sharpness. I’m honestly not sure what the different lunch meats are exactly, you can’t mind the cartilagey bits, though; they just add texture and the row of ground pork adds meaty springiness.
I only intended to eat half of my sandwich since this impromptu lunch didn’t take place until after 5pm and I was planning Sri Lankan food for dinner, maybe around 9pm. But I ate the whole thing anyway because it was that good. (And I have another one to look forward to tomorrow--I always buy a second sandwich to bring to work for lunch.) Ba Xuyen’s version is a bit heartier than some others so this might’ve been a mistake. I have zero interest in cooking now.
Ok, I could just leave my banh mi missive like that, happy go lucky and to the point. But I can’t or else it wouldn’t be me. I can’t because while waiting for my sandwich I encountered the convergence of two subjects that garner the angriest comments here: my impatience with know-it-all white foodies showing off their love of ethnic food and my suspicion and dismissal of the seriousness of food allergies. I rarely get comments period, I guess I’m more of a blabber than a cultivator of community, but yes, these are two topics that never fail to elicit vitriol from strangers. And this is how they come together in one interaction.

Twenty-something redhead: Does the #8 have peanuts?
Perfectly nice counter woman with adequate English skills: You want peanuts?
Twenty-something redhead: No, I don’t eat peanuts.
Perfectly nice counter woman with adequate English skills: The pork sandwich has peanuts.
Twenty-something redhead: I can’t eat peanuts. I have allergies.
Perfectly nice counter woman with adequate English skills: Allergies. Ok…
And this devolved into a back and forth with no resolve. The counter woman understood what allergies were but the redhead was getting more exasperated and sniped, “this is really turning into a drama.”
I think the problem was that the counter woman didn’t get what the girl was asking for. To me, it seemed that she wanted a different sandwich than the one she had ordered, sat down with and had started eating and now wanted to know which of the eight choices were peanut-free but she wasn’t really articulating this well. So then, her Asian-American (not Vietnamese, I’m fairly certain) boyfriend came up and reiterated the exact same thing like that would help matters, then announced that he’d just swap his #1 with his girlfriend’s #8 and that would solve peanut-filled sandwich problem.
While waiting for my sandwich, the counter lady was conferring with the cook lady in Vietnamese and every few words you could hear highly accented, allergy huffed with derision. I caught her eye and shared a smile—I didn’t want her want her lumping me into the difficult white lady camp. I’m no trouble-maker.
Sure, I’m guilty of being white and loving to eat food that I didn’t grow up with. I’m all for everyone sampling cuisines of the world. But I have issues with two types: loud, braggadocios who either have traveled extensively or lived in a foreign country and suck the air out of restaurants with their unbridled knowledge (not this couple’s M.O.) and the culinary explorers who expect all conventions of American, particularly neurotic New Yorker, eating quirks to be anticipated and respected.
As a diabetic, I’m careful about avoiding sugar but that’s my problem. If I blindly ordered a foodstuff from an inexpensive storefront, oh, let's say an iced coffee from a Vietnamese establishment, and the beverage I was handed was beige with sweetened condensed milk because that’s what Vietnamese ice coffee is like, it would be my own fault for not asking what it contained first. I wouldn’t expect the business to make me something else due to my mistake. I don't expect Danny Meyer levels of hospitality for $3.75.

Back to the important matter: Ba Xuyen makes the most awesome banh mis in the city. Just watch out for the bbq pork, a.k.a the #8—it’s sprinkled with crushed peanuts. (8/25/08)

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Paris Sandwich

1/2 I’m frequently torn between trying to learn what patience means (I already have prematurely high blood pressure and am half-convinced that a heart attack will seize me before forty) and being uncontrollably speedy and efficient. Today, I was able to put both lifestyles to the test when I became stricken with a violent craving for a banh mi around 11am.

Normally, I don’t eat until 2pm and have a hard time getting worked up over anything, especially in a five-block radius. But obtaining a banh mi became such an overwhelming mission that by 12:55 I couldn’t sit still any longer. And I didn’t care how far I had to go to find one.

I have a full hour lunch, which I rarely take advantage of, so it wasn’t as if I was in a real hurry. But because I’m always manic and huffy, I had a self-imposed sense of urgency. How fast could I get to Chinatown, order, and get back to the office? It would be a fun, sweaty little contest with myself. Never mind that I did so many leg presses and thigh squeezey things at the gym on Sunday that it still hurts to stroll with a normal gait. (I recently re-joined my gym and clearly didn't realize how out of shape I'd become even though I'd continued to exercise on my own. All I know is that when I last frequented the place I didn't have an iPod yet and there was lots of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah on my mp3 device, so I'm fairly certain it was 2005.)

So, out the door at 12:55. I don’t wear a watch so I could only get so frantic on my sandwich run. Getting to Canal from Broad was a breeze. Navigating the three blocks to Paris Sandwich (there might be a closer shop to Centre St. but I’ve been meaning to try this bakery) was anything but. Between the meandering tourists, three-foot tall Chinese shufflers and thick-headed locals, it’s always perpetual gridlock.

Thankfully, Paris Sandwich’s service was crazy-fast and organized. Simple, you order in the front from a photo menu, and pick up in the back. My number #39 was squawked and I had a grilled pork and standard sandwich in less than two minutes, way before I expected them. That’s an assembly line. There was no time for dilly-dallying, scrutinizing the menu, searching for anomalies and atypical gems. I barely glanced at the refrigerated case and shelves of baked goods. I tried to ignore the sign on the door for a tomato slushy, which would normally weird me out enough for a double take, but not this time.

The north side of Canal St. is minutely more walkable, so I tried maneuvering through jewelry shop gawkers. Despite my initial annoyance at a woman in a wheelchair clogging up the already maxed out sidewalk, I lucked out on the way back. I realized that everyone willingly moved aside for her and her motorized ride, so I got right behind it like a speeding car trailing an ambulance and benefited from the temporary path she created.

Paris_bakery_banh_miI was pleased with myself until I got thwarted by the turnstile pile-up while trying to get into the subway station. I got downstairs just in time to see the J pulling out. Damn. The next M only went one stop to Chambers St. where I got stuck at 1:21pm and lost steam. I didn’t get back on track literally, until 1:31. When my mom was in town a few months ago she thought it was strange that I’d complain about waiting ten minutes for a subway since the light rail runs like every 15 minutes during rush hour, but ten minutes is a freaking long time to stand around in the dank humidity (and no one takes public transportation in Portland anyhow).

When all was said and done, the trek spanned from 12:55 to 1:45. I really thought it’d be quicker. Fifty minutes to go three stops, walk three blocks, get take out, and then do the reverse? If there had been better subway and elevator (I can only take one elevator from bank of four to get to 33, the top floor, mine) alignment, 15 minutes could easily be shaved off.

Paris_bakery_cross_sectionOddly, the special banh mi contained no cucumber and next to no mayonnaise, which didn’t traumatize me because those are my least favorite components even though I hate to admit it (phew, now that’s off my chest). Some vegetables creep me out warm, lettuce and cucumbers are two. While a solid amount of cold cuts are folded inside the roll, there was a surprising lack of flavor and more cartilagey bits than I’m accustomed to. The pickled essence could’ve been stronger. And I like more of that reddish ground up mystery meat. But these are all nitpicks; the sub more than served its purpose.

I ate half of each sandwich and saved the rest for tomorrow’s lunch. The grilled pork was very sweet and saucy, more candied than the grilled pork you’d find atop a bowl of rice vermicelli.

Paris_bakery_summer_rollsAs is often my way, I grabbed some summer rolls at the cash register (they’re always at the counter). I didn’t even have time to see which variety I snagged. They all looked brown through the translucent skins, I’m fairly certain they were all pork, no shrimp anyway. Nice and compact, the fillings stayed put and didn’t make for messy at-desk eating, though the nuoc cham was dangerously drippy.

I never got the point of a camera phone until today when I left the house camera-less.  I’m not even joking when I say that I’m not even up to speed with texting and talking and walking at the same time. Forget about control over focus, lighting, sizing or any of that. What you see is as good as it gets.

Paris Sandwich * 113 Mott St., New York, NY

Silent H

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.

Silent_h_spring_rollsI’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.

Silent_h_beef_carpaccioThe 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.

Silent_h_pork_chopWe 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.

Silent_h_crepeOur 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