Archive for the ‘Vietnam(ese)’ Category

California Soul: Silverlake Edition (LA)

February 29, 2008

It’s all in the air/ You hear it everywhere
No matter what you do/ It’s gonna grab a hold on you

California soul… California soul…

— Ashford & Simpson

It’s in my bones, I can’t shake it off- California is IN me. Took a week off to attend a wedding in San Francisco, and detoured through sunny LA and San Diego on my way up. It’s been a glorious trip meeting up with old friends, and most importantly, voraciously eating through each day.

My bff Sara lives in Silverlake, in LA, which I absolutely adore. It’s hipster central, but not so annoying– lots of shops and restaurants and cafes that is totally walkable (very rare for LA, or California in general).

Every morning, I walked to a Chicago-based coffee joint called Intelligentsia- an authority on fine coffees and hot baristas. Good coffee, lots of locals, minimal interior and again, hottie central.

Right next to Intell is The Cheese Store of Silverlake, which is a fancy little fine foods shop (lots of imported condiments, chesses, olives and wine), that specialize in making awesome paninis.

Look at this wrapped panini- flat and compact, like a notebook!
Turkey, cranberry, cheese, and some mysterious green oozy stuff. Who you gonna call? C’mon, laugh.
A cup of cornichons
We went to El Conquistador for my first supper- gotta get your Mexican fix as soon as you land in Cali. This place was AWESOME. I stupidly forgot my camera, but the food was satisfying (I had the enchiladas, Sara had the ropa vieja), extremely friendly service, and flamboyantly kitchy decor. You have to go to see exactly what I’m talking about, but trust me, you will have a blast.

I was super skeptical about Pho Cafe: without a sign, overrun with hipsters, and with their orange Ikea chairs. Also, my friend, an LA native, had warned me that any restaurant in LA with an “A” rating is bogus (the LA Dept of Health grades all eateries, “A” obviously being the highest).

Boy, did they prove me wrong though- the food was excellent, the real deal (dare I use the word “authentic”). Worth the 15 minutes we waited for a seat (it seems this place is packed all the time).

Banh xeo: Crepe with shrimp, steak, shiitake mushrooms and bean sprouts

Bun cha gio tom thit nuong: cold rice noodles with egg rolls and beef

Pho tai gan: rice noodle soup with rare steak and tendon. The soup was very flavorful- a little sweet, lots of depth. I didn’t want it to end.

Possibly my absolute favorite part of Silverlake- the 99cent store. The window proudly displayed their offerings ranging from food, toilet paper, foil, to toothpaste. 99cents people!! There were 2 long aisles devoted to food– refrigerators packed with eggs and milk, condiments, dried foods and canned goods. I got Sara an awesome welcome mat here. A welcome mat for 99cents!!! GO NOW!

All the above spots are all within a 5 block radius from one another on Sunset Blvd. Can you imagine not needing a car in LA? All have a pristine view of the iconic Hollywood sign.
3922 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90029

The Cheese Store of Silverlake
3926-28 West Sunset Blvd.

El Conquistador
3701 West Sunset Blvd.LA, CA

Pho Cafe
2841 West Sunset Blvd.

99cent Store

3600 West Sunset. Blvd.

Banh Mi Field Trip: So 1 (NYC)

September 6, 2007

Last week, when Matt sent me this Gridskipper link— a guide to banh mi in the city– it was 11am. By 11:05, my stomach was grumbling; 11:10, I was drooling; 11:30, fantasies of pork, cilantro and pate filled baguettes kept me from getting any work done. So what did I do? I knocked on my cubicle wall, and egged Melissa, my cubie-mate, to make a mad dash down the 6 train to Chinatown, where the best banh mi in the city (so they say) awaited us.

Many many people call Viet-Nam Banh Mi So 1 the best. People who know what they’re talking about. People who know a thing or two about the venerable Vietnamese sub.

So 1 is an ordinary, run-of-the-mill storefront, a place that you would never look at twice walking down Broome. But when you walk inside, you will be greeted by blinding white parquet floors, a refrigerator full of fresh juices on your right, a yellowing list of sandwiches above the counter, a stack of various Vietnamese snackies on the counter, and two teenage boys behind it taking orders. At 12:30pm, the place was pretty packed.

After waiting 10 minutes for our sandwiches, Mel and I walked over to the soccer park on Christie Street to chow down. I got the #1 House Classic, and Mel got the #12 House Special Vegetarian.

Let me mention that these sandwiches are about a foot long, jam-packed with goodies, wrapped in a white paper bag, then synched with a rubber band. Mel and I walked down the street with our sandwiches under our arms – if this were Paris, we would fit right in (except these aren’t just your ordinary baguette).

The House Special consists of grilled pork, vietnamese salami and sliced pork roll, and that’s just the meat! The baguette is fresh and crispy on the outside, fluffy within (key for any respectable banh mi), smeared with a special mayo. It’s finished off with some crunchy pickled carrots and daikon, and for a bit of greenery, cilantro.

Take a look at this pork! It was sweet and harmonious with the tang of the pickles. Matt said that the pork used to be better, but I haven’t been there for years, so can’t recall how it was before. I can tell you, however, that I cherished every bite of this sandwich.

I washed down each bite with fresh coconut juice, with pieces of coconut on the bottom of the cup. So refreshing!

Mel’s sandwich was really excellent too. It was filled with tofu, mushroom, clear noodles, carrots and daikon. It was basically eggroll filling in a baguette. Pretty genius.

So far, my favorite banh mi has been Hanco’s in Cobble Hill, and this place. But I am well aware that I have many many more banh mi storefronts to visit before I can even start ranking anything. But what I can say, is that all in all, our little emergency 2-hour lunch break downtown was well worth the trip– Mel and I have vowed to make them often.

Viet-Nam Báhn Mì So 1
369 Broome Street
btwn. Mott and Elisabeth

New York, NY
(212) 219-8341

Related banh mi readings:
– Check out these gorgeous banh mi on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City– courtesy of Oishii Eats
– An incredibly thorough, in depth NYC banh mi encyclopedia– courtesy of The Porkchop Express (he’s not so crazy about BM So 1)

Pho Lovin’: Pho Bang (NYC)

August 20, 2007

With such a ramen frenzy going on in New York right now (a cute little “guide to ramen” column in Time Out this week; buzz on Eater about yet another Hakata-style rameneria opening in Greenpoint in the fall; the ramen war that Setagaya ignited with Momofuku before they opened a couple months back, etc), I dare repeat what I’ve been saying for years: ramen in NY SUCKS.

I’ve tried almost all of them: Momofuku, Setagaya, Rai-Rai ken, Rockmeisha, Menkui-tei, and more, and they are all subpar. None of them can get it quite right. The worst part? It’s always over $10 for a measly bowl! Drives me nuts.

So instead, why don’t we focus on a noodle soup that is wonderfully plentiful and ridiculously underrated (and CHEAP) in this hype-infected city: PHO. I cannot proclaim to know a lot about Vietnamese food, but I crave it all the time, especially pho and banh mis. It’s all so perfect, a bowl of pho, with its fresh, crispy sprouts, the lightly seasoned soup, the various internal beef parts, the al dente rice noodles.

My obsession continues as I hunt down the best pho in this city- one that outshines any bowl of ramen here, any day.

The other night, I went to Pho Bang in Chinatown for the second time, it’s a little place with french bistro chairs, glass table tops, and good lighting. I had the standard bowl of pho, the Tai nam Fau Gan Sach, a combination of eye of round, brisket, tendon and omosa (basically tripe).

I love that the round comes almost raw- better to eat it right away before it gets over cooked- so tender. The omosa has a crunch to it, and the tendons have this great jelly-like consistency. Not for everyone, but I love it. Next time I will take pictures of the parts, for all you cow-part-non-believers.

The soup has so much depth of flavor- not overly beefy, just aromatic, and kinda sweet. A few squirts of sriracha adds a little kick. The raw onions and scallions are also a plus.

The most ingenious part about pho is the standard plate of bean sprouts, fresh basil and lime that comes on the side. Coming from a ramen background, where you stir fry the sprouts and veggies before hand (not standard, but I like to), this was always a bit puzzling to me. But it all makes perfect sense- the crispness of the sprouts, that cooks just right in the hot soup; the distinct flavor of fresh basil, the squirt of lime– all come together to act as a cooling agent in the hot hot heat.

It’s summertime in a bowl- the perfect food in this heat! I think that Pho Bang is excellent- had a fantastic meal the first time I went too- make sure to get the rice crepes with beef that they advertise on the walls!

And of course that the best part of all this is that a bowl of pho is only $4.95! Add $1 for an extra large bowl with more noodles and more beef- more, more more!!! Can’t beat that!

How much exactly did I enjoy my pho, you ask? See for yourself…

Pho Bang
157 Mott St
(between Broome St & Grand St)
New York, NY 10013
(212) 966-3797

Mon-Sun 10:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.

Related Readings:
Pho Fever: great site I found devoted to the bountiful pleasures of pho
– LA foodblogger Oishii Eats backpacks South East Asia and chronicles her pho finds and other street eats in Vietnam

Boi to Go (Vietnamese) in Midtown

July 12, 2007

So, Kayoko was supposed to come with me today to try Boi to Go (Boi’s take-out only outpost, on 2nd bet. 42 and 43), but she’s suffering from some mad JS-BS-OMG-WTF lately and needed to take a breather, plus she’s been working NON-STOP like Tess McGill from Working Girl (hugs to Kayoko).

So, without her company, I stopped by on my way back from mailing a kajillion packages at Grand Central P.O. and ordered the noodles with veggies in sesame-basil sauce (you pick either noodle, rice bowl, banh wrap, salad or baguette, then your choice of meat or veg, and sauce – sesame basil, curry mint, red hot pepper, or lemongrass plum dressing). It kind of reminds me of the Chipotle menu-ordering/ingredient station concept. And all of the meals come with lettuce, fresh tomato, corn (lots) and sliced onions if you want them.

Everything was really fresh and tasted great. I like that they give you fresh avocado slices (albeit 2) and the sauce was just flavorful enough and didn’t overpower. Aside from the noodles (your typical Vietnamese rice noodle, which they didn’t skimp on) though, it’s not what I would call authentic Vietnamese as an entire dish. Plus, they topped off my dish with a lot of corn….a lot.

I plan on bringing Kayoko and Dan next time so we can try out some more stuff. I’ll definitely return, especially since this is like the only Vietnamese place in the area!!!

The Bánh Mì Taste Test: Boerum Hill

March 16, 2007

as Matt and I walked down Atlantic Avenue last weekend to browse their row of mid-century modern furniture shops, a Vietnamese sandwich, or bánh mì, at Nicky’s was definitely on his agenda. it was a beautiful day, people were out, indulging in as much of the springtime tease as possible (Saturday- warm, sunny; today- snow!)– it was the perfect day for a bánh mì for sure.

we found Nicky’s at the corner of Atlantic and Smith St., a tiny little place with just a few tables and a bar looking out into the street. this would be Nicky’s second outpost- their first being in the East Village on 2nd and A. Lydia (one of my favorite foodies who we just lost to the London fog- come back Lydia!) used to rave about Nicky’s in the city so this was exciting that they opened a shop in my borough.

i don’t know what i was thinking, but i completely forgot to take a picture of our sandwich at Nicky’s, so bear with me. we ordered the Classic, and for $4, it’s the best deal on Atlantic, as far as i can tell. the baguette was filled with pâté, ham, ground pork, pickled carrot, cucumbers, cilantro, jalapeño, and mayo. Matt says that the bread was warm and crispy (i don’t remember this, but he said he watched them toast it). the ham was not as good as it could be, but i loved the contrast of the spicy jalapeño peppers and the sweet ground pork. Matt said that he likes his pork roasted, so he wasn’t so into this.

when we were done with the sandwich, i wanted another. i had stupidly not ordered one cause i thought i wasn’t hungry, which is always a HUGE MISTAKE (Matt agrees here). but honestly, i wasn’t bowled over by the sandwich so i had this brilliant idea to hunt down this other Vietnamese sandwich place in Boerum Hill i had heard about.

so i used NY Mag’s new text messaging feature to find the place– i typed in “Food Vietnamese Boerum Hill” (seriously, you New Yorkers need to program this number into your phones) and a second later came the words “Hanco’s, 85 Bergen St., near Smith St.” right down the block! what luck! we were on our way.

right off the bat, let me say that Hanco’s makes a better sandwich. we ordered the pork sandwich (above- this time, i didn’t forget to take a pic!) which included grilled pork, mayo, butter, pickled carrots and daikon, and cilantro. the baguette came out hot and crispy (i definitely noticed this) and the pork was sweet and tender. we asked for the “spicy” version, and it was VERY spicy- my mouth was on fire when by the time the sandwich came to the last sad bite, but it was worth it. for $4.25, it was absolutely worth the 5 minute walk from Nicky’s. they serve different bubble teas too, for you boba tea fanatics (Anmol). inside, there are a few tables, and a magazine rack full of new magazines, so it’s a good place to kill some time– grab a bargain meal AND get the newest scoop on which country Brangelina are adopting from this week in US Weekly. awesome.

i must say that i am incredibly impressed by the fact that there is not one but TWO bánh mì joints within a 5 block radius in Boerum Hill. Matt still says that he likes the place on Mott and Broome in Chinatown better, but i would say this satisfied our craving just fine (right Matt?). i am yet to go down to Sunset Park where there are supposedly these shops lined up, but i sure am happy that there is one closer to home. *k*

foot note: there is this new, cute little gourmet grocer around Smith and Bergen called Chop Chop that was very minimal and sparse, carrying fresh pre-packaged salads, fruits and veggies, and racks of dry foods, such as these spices (i’m such a sucker for Colman’s mustard).

Vietnamese Floating Market

March 8, 2007

My little brother has been galavanting around South East Asia for months, and we don’t know when he’s coming back. He took these pictures in Vietnam, at a floating market on the Mekong Delta. Don’t you just love the way they hang all their produce up on a pole on their boat to show what they’re selling? Beautiful!