In a first, and quite possibly one and only unique post, ex-Saigon resident and blogger NoStar Where reports from New York City. NYC, as it’s often called, is a big city in a country called America. Mr. No Star Where, is now resident there and is looking for someone to hire him. Any takers, hit the comment box or email me.
Since arriving in New York City from Vietnam late this Spring, I’ve
been fattening myself on slices and bagels, with nary a bowl of Bun
Cha or Bun Mam in sight. That all changed last week. I
hopped on the subway, though I pretended it was a Honda Wave, (How did you do that? – Ed.) and
scooted on down to Chinatown. After surveying the area, searching tiny
alleyways, passing fish markets and stores that sell 7 t-shirts for
$10 USD, we settled on Thai Son, a Vietnamese restaurant at 89 Baxter St, between Bayard & Walker St.
We said Xin Chao to the waiter who just looked at
us funny, ordered Pho Tai for me, Pho Chay for veghead
Alison, and our Saigon fave, Chao Tom to share. To drink, we
ordered, yes, get this, Bia Saigon. I assumed the restaurant
would have 33 (that’s the export version of 333) but
Bia Saigon, wow, this place was legit, a fact we
confirmed when we saw the large family of Vietnamese-Americans sitting
next to us, the whole family, from old grandma to the young kids all
sharing a meal under a tacky lacquer painting of the Vietnamese
countryside. It could have been a restaurant in Vietnam, if not for
the table of NYU hipsters sitting on our left.
Onto the food. Now I’m not one to expect the same style of Vietnamese in
NYC Chinatown as you’d get from the streets of Vietnam so I approached
the meal with an open mind. I’ve eaten enough Vietnamese food in the
States to expect the worst. Sure the Pho in Falls Church is
divine and the Banh Mi in Oakland is fantastic, but go to your
average joint in the U.S., and spring rolls are about as good as it
gets. So how did it rate at Thai Son?
This being America, the portions
were big, at least the Chao Tom was. Two pieces of sugarcane
with shrimp mash wrapped around, a plate of greens, and bowl of fish
sauce. No starfruit or
rice paper, which did disappoint but the
Chao Tom did not. Impressively prepared, very tasty. The shrimp
peeled right off the sugarcane and the greens were fresh. Then there
were the two bowls of Pho. My Pho Tai was a reasonable
dish. I’ve learned that the best Pho to be had in Vietnam or in
the States, is in restaurants that exclusively serve Pho. The
broth was a tad on the weak side, the noodles very thin, but the beef
was tender and delicious.
Alison’s Pho Chay, a dish that faces
incredible odds of actually having flavor, was full of veggie’s but
the broth was weak. Without much hot sauce, it was a rather bland
affair. Like drinking veggie stock with noodles but then again, I
think most Pho Chay in Vietnam, minus one
special location in Saigon, tastes about the same. It’s tough
doing a veggie version of this most meaty of dishes.
Will we be back? You bet, if only for the Chao Tom and Bia
Saigon, plus I did notice Bo La Lot on the menu, and
several other Southern specialties. Actually, compared to most
Vietnamese restaurants I’vevisited in the States, this one scored pretty well. I just urge all Yank’s to please not order the Chicken with Lemongrass or whatever other generic rice dish you see. Order something you can’t pronounce and don’t understand like Banh
Xeo. That’s where Vietnamese food is at. Ask the waiter for what his cousins in Saigon eat, and then order that. Be generous with the fish sauce and light on the soy. Without little plastic chairs, screeching pop, and sweltering heat, well, it’s not quite the same but then again, if a New Yorker ever ate pizza in Vietnam, they’d probably wonder what atrocity has been committed against their most favorite of dishes.
Cheers for the report NoStar Where and all the best with the job hunt.