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Posts from the ‘Vietnamese’ Category

Pho Grand

I’m just getting the point where I can re-hash Christmas dinner and it’s already the day before New Year’s Eve. Sadly, I don’t even have an inkling of a plan yet. But that’s how Christmas was too. I didn’t do a single notable thing all day and didn’t leave the house until 8pm.

I met random mix of people at Pho Grand (Chinatown without the Chinese food) that included my friend Jane, her father who’d literally just gotten into town, her sister and boyfriend, and a mutual friend Heather. I was hesitant to tell Heather that we were doing Vietnamese but it turned out she’d been to Pho Grand before, coincidentally with the guy I’d ran into at Snacky a few nights before.

I forgot to take photos, that often happens when I’m with people I don’t know that well. We shared a few grilled pork chops, a large order of spring rolls, and everyone got some pho permutation except Heather, a.k.a baby palate (I’d nearly forgotten that I’d dubbed her that until she mentioned it) who ordered grilled beef over rice vermicelli and wouldn’t add the accompanying sauce. It pained me to watch her using soy sauce instead of hoisin or chile paste but the holiday spirit doesn’t allow for food nazism.

I couldn’t bear Williamburg drinks afterward, so Heather and I set off in the rainstorm looking for any place open and serving dessert. That limited our options to Little Italy where we found one restaurant that met our criteria. I couldn’t even tell you the name. Our shared black forest cake, cannoli and strawberry tart were anything but remarkable but sometimes you have to take what you can get.

This is not pho

Pho Grand * 277 Grand St., New York, NY

Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches

2shovel Nicky’s is just what I had expected from a BoCoCa (I said it) banh mi: lacking compared to its Chinatown counterparts, a touch pricey, yet acceptable in a pinch. There’s nothing appalling about them and the busy spot seems welcome on Atlantic Avenue.

Banh_miTheir stubby subs are smaller than usual and the classic is a buck more ($3.95) than at most of the Sunset Park storefronts. I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something wimpy about these sandwiches, maybe the bread is too airy, maybe it’s the fillings. They look okay on the surface but something’s missing (no, not love—I really hate the concept of passion transmitting from body to food like a sentimental lightening bolt). I only recently discovered the grilled pork version at my favorite shop, Ba Xuyen, so it’s hard not to compare it to Nicky’s pork chop rendition, but there’s something more flavorful, possibly sweeter about Ba Xuyen’s rendition. Crushed peanuts never hurt.

Classic cross-section

Pork chop cross-section

One sandwich is often just right, but after eating an entire Nicky’s hoagie, I felt unsatisfied and had to stop myself from tearing into the second one I’d bought for the next day. On the other hand, the spice level was higher than I’m accustomed to. I’m not sure if I got overactive jalapenos or if they just used more.

I’m not complaining because I’m happy to have banh mis encroaching South Brooklyn at all, though I wish Nicky’s wasn’t so close to Hanco’s and more selfishly, near the Carroll St. station. They do satisfy an urge and beat having to spend Metrocard fare, but I wouldn’t call either of these relative newcomers convenient. Anything over a mile is an effort, not a jaunt (Nicky’s is 1.3 miles from my apartment, which feels much further than the 1.1 miles I used to frequently walk from my former apartment to Ba Xuyen. I think it’s all the Cobble Hill strollers–baby carriages and pedestrian slow pokes–clogging up my single-minded path).

Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches * 311 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Nha Trang Palace

I’m on my Barcelona kick, but this pre-vacation meal has been sitting in the hopper and I can’t just toss it out for bigger and better things. I really like Vietnamese food, but for me it’s kind of a back burner cuisine. When I think Asian, Thai, Chinese or Malaysian pop into my head first. Vietnamese feels healthy to me and I’m not always in a healthy mood. And now that I think about it, I almost only ever eat the same three things: banh mi, cha gio or pho. I need some serious horizon expanding.

I had originally planned a birthday party for July 28, yet somehow decided to cancel it, had zero celebration whatsoever, ended up eating soup in Sunset Park and going to bed relatively early. And who says 34 isn’t fun? At least I got an ice cream cake.

Nha_trang_pho I'm always amazed by the many permutations of pho available at most Vietnamese restaurants. I usually stick with the everything but the kitchen sink dac biet approach. The ingredients do differ. Here the $5.25they included verbatim: six difference brisket, navel, frank, omosa, tendon and eye of round. Ok, frank I think is flank. I'm a little scared of what navel and omosa are, though at least one must be a variation of tripe, as there were bumpy white sea creature looking strips in the bowl. I do like the meaty contrasts of crunchy, gelatinous and chewy, and how the paper thin rare round cooks in the broth.

Nha_trang_rolls The accompaniment plate had basil, lemon wedges and bean sprouts. Sometimes you get jalepeno, but not here. Of course, no one’s stopping you from adding a little “rooster sauce.”

We also had cha gio because fried rolls are always irresistible, but they weren't remarkable here. The filling was very porky, maybe a bit too much so and the wrapper was bubbly from the oil, but lacked a crisp bite.

Nha Trang Palace is likeable, but no great shakes. If you’re ever in Sunset Park and want pho, it’s as good as any.

Nha Trang Palace * 5906 Eighth Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Little Saigon

I was kind of surprised to see that there must be a substantial Vietnamese community in Atlantic City. While trying to find the White House Sub Shop we passed a pho joint and a bodega with a permanent sign advertising Spanish groceries and a hand written one proclaiming Vietnamese foodstuffs too. We ended up parking in front of place that looked more like a house than a restaurant with a window proclaiming Vietnamese hoagies.

So after getting our fill of American food during our first day and a half in town, I was thankful to have another country's cuisine to turn to (well, there was also El Coqui Café, which amused me–there's not escaping that Puerto Rican frog). We passed a corner place called Little Saigon and decided to stop in.

Little_saigon_spring_rolls I gathered that this restaurant is a local favorite based upon the numerous awards and write ups posted on the wall. It seemed like someplace that takes pride in its food. The clientele was predominantly Caucasian, which didn't turn me off as that is the general make up of the city. The presentations and garnishes had more flourish than your typical pho shop, and forks were given as a default, but I wouldn't say that the welcoming staff was pandering and it certainly wasn't haute or fusion food.

Originally, I wanted a simple bowl of beef noodle soup, but got swayed by the $7.95 lunch special which included spring rolls, grilled meat atop rice vermicelli and a choice of ice tea or homemade lemonade. I was so hungry that I forgot to take a photo of my pork noodles. My only complaint would be that the edges of the meat had been charred slightly too much. The burnt tips gave a bitter taste to the one-bowl meal, but by no means ruined it. The spring rolls were as crisp and tasty as I'd hoped for–I swear, Vietnamese are masters of the spring roll. And the crazy sweet lemonade quelled my desire for an icy, neon hued, gelatinous dessert.

Little Saigon * 2801 Artic Ave., Atlantic City, NJ

Saigon Banh Mi So 1

I went a little sandwich crazy this Saturday. In less than thirty minutes I purchased a bocadillo from Despaña and two banh mi from this place. It was a bready Broome St. kind of afternoon.

Living in Sunset Park for a decent spell, Ba Xuyen has always been my go to spot. I think I've only tried So 1 once or twice, and years ago. I'd forgotten how many choices they had and how vegetarian friendly (lots of fake meat, gluten stuff) their banh mis can be. I was intrigued by a handwritten sign advertising chicken curry banh mi, but went with the classic, which is almost always a #1.

It's hard not to compare the Brooklyn and Manhattan sandwiches. Both are from the upper echelon of Saigon subs, but I'm partial to the Sunset Park style. I could be totally wrong, but Ba Xuyen's bread seems crispier, while So 1 has a softer style, more like an Italian roll. So 1 also uses more sausage, which I think is liberally laced with five-spice powder. Not a bad flavor, but it gives the sandwich an overall Chinese-y flair.

Like when I was in Hong Kong, certain stores just smelled Chinese, which I finally deduced meant five-spice powder to my senses. Much of Malaysia smelled, well, Malaysian. You'd be in a mall, walk past a store and get a whiff of Malaysia that I ultimately narrowed down to being toasted shrimp paste. I'm not sure what Vietnamese smells like–maybe lemongrass? Fish sauce, too, I guess. Nuoc cham?

Maybe it was just luck of the draw, but this banh mi had cilantro that was all stem, no leaf. I hate to admit that I have a stem phobia because it's very childish. But I've gotten much better, now I'll eat romaine no problem when ten years ago I'd nibble around the ribs. I'm a low maintenance eater, I swear, but there's something unsettling about biting into a wad of stems, not severing them neatly with your incisors, and then pulling the thin green stalks out of the sandwich with your mouth as you start to put the sandwich down.

Despite all my nitpicking, So1 still makes one of the better banh mis in Manhattan. If only the much revered banh mi would start popping up in midtown, all my problems would be solved. But you know they'd cost $7 and somehow manage to be pressed like a panini. (3/18/06)

Saigon Banh Mi So 1 * 369 Broome St., New York, NY


I'm still trying to figure out what kind of name Hanco is, or if it's anyone's name at all. It doesn't sound terribly Vietnamese, I'll say that much. Maybe I watch too much TV because the first thing that came to mind was Hanso, like the mysterious foundation on Lost.

At first I found it hard to believe a banh mi store would set up shop in Cobble Hill (or is this technically Boerum Hill–I find the border of those two neighborhoods even more nebulous than Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens). And with bubble tea? Is that right? Maybe they're trying to cash in on two perceived cross-cultural trends that New Yorkers have embraced. Part of me was just excited to have banh mi in the area (I hesitate to say neighborhood, Hanco's is one subway stop away or a twenty minute walk and not on my way to anything) but I also was wary because it didn't seem like a natural fit. Kind of like Nicky's in the East Village as opposed to the original An Dong in Sunset Park.

Hanco The sandwich was pretty close to what I'd expected, satisfying enough under the circumstances, but not kick ass in any way. The rolls weren't quite right and seemed a bit small (normally, one banh mi is plenty, but I ended up eating both that I'd bought to take home. Maybe I was just ravenous from banh mi withdrawals). The construction was heavy on the marinated shredded carrots, and contained more ground pork than I'm used to. I did like that the sandwiches weren't super mayonnaisey, but that's my own personal food aversion issue (I've grown to accept and even enjoy mayo, but I don't like seeing large pockets of the thick white sauce).

I was hoping they'd have a selection of snacks, more like Ba Xuyen, but even the salad and spring rolls listed on the print menu had been scratched out with Sharpie. It seems that they're still getting their bearings.

The space was a little austere and dead silent. A bit of music or background chatter couldn't have hurt. I was afraid to breathe or shuffle while waiting patiently for my sandwiches to be prepared. Even the three workers kept quiet the 15 minutes or so that I was in there. A mom with two small children was sitting at a table when I first arrived, so apparently Cobble Hill tots aren't averse to Vietnamese sandwiches. However, they tossed out barely touched bubble teas declaring them "too sweet." Also, very Cobble Hill that kids would take issue with sugar content. Jeez.

Hanco's * 85 Bergen St., Brooklyn, NY

Gia Lam

You say faux, I say feu. Everyones got their way of pronouncing pho. And to
be honest, I havent listened closely enough when a Vietnamese speaker orders
to hear how they say it. I had always read that it was like foot minus the
letter T, and I've stuck to this track even if it makes me sound
pretentious. It was only recently that I read how pho is derived from the
French pot au feu. You know, French colonization and all that. Duh.

Despite a fondness for pho I rarely eat it. Vietnamese cuisine is that
way. While rabidly fanatical about banh mi, which isnt sit down restaurant
food, when prowling for a full Asian meal the cleaner, simpler Vietnamese
style usually loses out to a preference for richer, spicier fare, most often
Thai, occasionally Chinese. However, while searching for a wok in Sunset
Parks Chinatown, which is rapidly becoming Vietnamesetown, the blustery
weather was practically begging me to eat a bowl of soup.

I had the dac biet, I almost always go for the special combo thats at
the top of the list. The hodgepodge of parts always differs from place to
place, though flank steak and tendon seem standard. This menu mentioned the
inclusion of navel, which confused me a bit. The pho was very no nonsense,
no choice of sizes, condiments consisted of basil, bean sprouts and lemon.
It seemed like something was missing—maybe sliced chiles?

I've yet to master the art of slamming a bowl. Customers came in after
us, slurped away, and hit the road while I was still sucking noodles. It
made me wonder about the French and all the recent press about joie de vivre
being the secret to thinness. Good quality and long meals savoring each bite
supposedly lend to good health. But fat Asians are still pretty rare and I
don't see a lot of lingering and pondering over each morsel. Maybe I just
visit gauche enclaves.

Gia Lam * 5402 Eighth Ave.,Brooklyn, NY

Saigon Kitchen

I'm not sure that its actually called Saigon Kitchen anymore, but thats what
it will always be to me. One of the nice things about Portland is that
things don't change a ton. Sure, new restaurants open, but there's not the
constant flux of NYC.

They make a mean cha giao. Vietnamese fried spring rolls are really the
best of that genre. Maybe its the lettuce, bean sprouts and crisp tangy
dipping sauce that give an illusion that theyre somehow healthier than their
Chinese or Filipino counterparts. The items over noodles, bun, is what I
like the best here, more lunchy than dinner like. The aforementioned spring
rolls make a nice topping, as does grilled pork. Like a lot of Portland
restaurants, the Vietnamese dishes on the menu stray well beyond borders.
Dont get tempted by the American-Chinese standards, keep it simple and you
wont likely be disappointed.

Saigon Kitchen * 835 NE Broadway St., Portland, OR


This is one of those places near Jamess apartment I'd always meant to try,
but never got around to before he moved. It was very likeable, but I hardly
ever go out in the East Village anymore. See my Time Out NY Eating
& Drinking Guide review

Cyclo * 203 First Ave., New York, NY

Pho Van


Word to the wise: don't take your grandma out for Vietnamese food as a
Christmas present. I guess it was my own fault for basing my cuisine choice
on my own personal preferences, but I'd heard about this Pho Van in NW,
thought about paying a visit, then noticed they'd recently opened a
Beaverton location, which was ideal since that's where my mom lives. Instead
of buying presents I told my mom, step-dude and grandma I'd take them out to
eat. And why not take them someplace I'd wanted to go? I knew they weren't
anti-Vietnamese food because when my sister is in town they always go to
Saigon Kitchen.

I ordered both spring and summer rolls and a filled crepe for everyone
to share. The fresh rolls seemed to scare everyone and the crepe was met
with serious suspicion. My grandma informed us she didn't like cilantro. Let
me guess, you don't like mint or bean sprouts either? Thankfully, cilantro
appeared to be the only stumbling block.

For myself I ordered the 1. pho with everything in it and was informed
by the waiter that it had tendon and tripe in it. Duh, that's what it said
on the menu. That's the weird thing I noticed about Portland is that they
assume you either don't know what you're ordering or won't like it if you
do. At Thanh Thao I overheard the waitress informing a table that ordered
something with taro in it, what taro was like you wouldn't possibly want.

The food was very good, and everyone was pleasantly surprised after I
forced them to at least taste everything. I must admit I lost my patience
with my grandma numerous times, but only after she set the tone by making a
big fuss about water dripping from a pipe (it's understandable to not want
to be dripped on, but it's not your business to jump up and yell at new
customers coming in and being seated near the leak), then getting overly
steamed about not receiving our pot of tea. Recalling that she'd gone on
some senior tour of China a few years back, I couldn't help but ask what she
ate while there. "Planet Hollywood and McDonalds" she proudly declared. I
nearly lost my shit and told her that she'd better be joking. She wasn't.
The crowning glory was when she started making a stink about not getting
fortune cookies. I mean, there's no reason for them in a Vietnamese
restaurant, or a Chinese one for that matter. I suppose the holidays are all
about family, and that's why I've managed to avoid a Portland Christmas for
the past six years.

PhoVan * 11651 SW Beaverton Hillsdale Hwy.,