Tag Archives: Vietnamese

For the fourth year in a row, I present the 100 most exciting dishes I’ve consumed during my food adventures around the five boroughs. Look for another five dishes every few days.

That poor little chicken has gotten a bad reputation for so long. Most of us know chicken in this country from overly processed, dry, bland preparations. But if done right, the clucker can take on lots of flavor and be a nice source of protein. There are chicken dishes in this city that change the game on what we know about poultry. Here are five from this year.

NUMBER 40: SHREDDED HUDSON VALLEY CHICKEN at NIGHTINGALE 9

Hudson Valley Shredded Chicken Salad at NIGHTINGALE 9

My childhood lunch box often contained a lackluster sandwich of egg, tuna, or chicken salad. Mom was good enough to mix some crunchy celery with the mayonnaise from time to time, but she forgot the mint leaves, shredded cabbage, fried onions, and peanuts. Chef Robert Newton, however, adds those things and more to his Vietnamese-inspired chicken salad which features tender poached chicken shreds along with the previous ingredients and a shower of spicy red chiles. The dressing was bright and tangy, but had a sweet herbal finish. If only my Mom was Robert Newton! Sure, that would have been strange, but I would have had the best lunch box in school, Price: $12

NIGHTINGALE 9
345 Smith Street (between Carroll Street and 1st Place),
Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
(347) 689-4699
nightingale9.com

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For the third year in a row, I’m going to attempt to eat every single item on Time Out New York’s annual 100 Best Dishes list. In no particular order, here’s my take on their Top 100. Let the gluttony continue…

With apologies to Lincoln Center across the street, I think we should call the corner of Broadway and West 64th Street Boulud Center. You can find a Disney World-like cluster of Daniel Boulud owned restaurants there. It’s even difficult to tell where one eating establishment ends and where the other begins.

An outdoor barrier separates the seating at Bar Boulud and the one at Épicerie Boulud, while the fancy Boulud Sud is conveniently located around the corner. And I’m sure there must be some secret passage between the three.

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They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but when it’s not intended as imitation and rather as just using somebody else’s novel idea, I’d say it borders on thievery.

The cute little dumpling figure outside Plump Dumpling is just a little too similar to the logo of the other East Village dumpling house, Dumpling Man. If Dumpling Man’s mascot is a super hero, then Plump Dumpling’s lipstick wearing dumpling face is his female counterpart. But the two restaurants have nothing to do with each other, although I bet the owners of Plump Dumpling would like you to think they do.

I’m being a little too harsh and snide with Plump Dumpling, but nothing about it is original. Not that an Asian dive in this city should really get criticized for being unoriginal. Any entrepreneur will tell you if an idea works and people will pay for it, then why not repeat it? But the problem at Plump Dumpling is the food is just not as good as its predecessors.

And neither is the service. I don’t expect much hospitality at those take-out Chinese restaurants, but when an employee points you to a table and a man disguised as a waiter comes to take your order, I’d expect some hint of service. The waiter in question seemed very confused. I can only take it that it was his first day on the job, his first day in this country, or his first day in a restaurant. Everything we ordered seemed to baffle him. And I even pointed at the menu in case we were dealing with a language barrier.

The menu itself was like an Asian diner – it seemed like there wasn’t a cuisine or a dish that was unrepresented. Summer Rolls and Banh Mi (both Vietnamese), General Tso’s Chicken (Chinese-inspired), Pad Thai (thank you, Thailand), and Yakitori (Japanese) all found their way onto this menu. No wonder the waiter was confused.

I gathered that this restaurant is Vietnamese owned, but this is either one well-trained chef or they’ve spread themselves too thin with the Asian options. Everything we tried was pretty stingy and tasteless. The summer rolls were maybe the worst I’ve ever tasted. They were two rolls full of lettuce with a small cold shrimp and a lack of any flavor. And this cost six bucks! They really skimped on the ingredients – in quality and quantity. Our Noodle Soup with Wontons was also flavorless and rather barren. I’m thankful the wontons themselves had a hint of ginger because the chewy noodles and thin soup had no flavor.

Our friend the waiter forgot to bring us our dumplings. That was the reason we came here in the first place. When we asked for them again, he brought them out and they were lukewarm. I guess the waiter just forgot where he was. I feel terrible if the guy is actually suffering from Alzheimer’s.

We finally got the mixed dumplings, which included two of each kind: chicken, vegetable, seafood, and pork. They looked like little balls. I couldn’t quite tell what kind of dumplings these were. They certainly aren’t the Northern Chinese style I’ve been tasting of late. Or if they are, they need to find a new recipe.

They’re irregularly shaped and looked like little dough balls. Each chewy bite was rather unpleasant. They were thick and doughy opening up to a generic ball of semi-moist meat. And I really couldn’t tell the difference between one filling and another. I don’t think we ever got the seafood dumplings and aside from the green coloring of the veggie version and the obvious lack of meat, these fillings all tasted the same. The veggie dumplings had some strange sauerkraut like filling. I supposed it might have been fermented cabbage. Is Germany in Asia too?

The dumplings were certainly plump, but again lacked much flavor or focus. I think that’s the big problem with this take-out spot that wants to be a restaurant. It’s all over the place. And if they just focused on an Asian specialty (I would assume dumplings would be the obvious choice based on their name) and put some money and love into their ingredients, then maybe we could have something here. But until then, Plump Dumpling is just a rip-off (in many ways) and is not worth a visit. I can’t even say the prices are worth it, which is a problem if you’re trying to emulate other cheap Asian take-out spots.

Does Plump Dumpling have the the best dumplings in New York? They should take a hint from other dumpling houses by focusing on one specialty and use affordable ingredients that are fresh and flavorful, but since they don’t, they suffer with a 4 out of 10.

PLUMP DUMPLING
174 Second Avenue (between 11th Street and 12th Street)
East Village
(212) 254-2868
plumpdumplingnyc.com

Category: Dumplings

For a long time, whenever I thought of Vietnamese food I thought of very clean, healthy and light flavors – summer rolls and pho. In the last few years, I (and most of NY) discovered the banh mi. A Vietnamese sandwich traditionally made with cucumbers, cilantro, pickled carrots, and all sorts of pork: paté, roasted, sausage, etc. Not the cleanest and healthiest of dishes.

Yet banh mi has (or should have) a great balance of flavors and textures. The veggies add that clean crispness, the meat gives it an earthy saltiness, and the baguette is fresher and lighter than any Subway hoagie.

Nhá Tôi is not the cleanest of places. It’s on a seemingly sketchy street in the middle of a hipster-lite section of Williamsburg. The shop itself is beyond tiny with maybe three or four seats and it’s awkward to maneuver around. The chef whose English and Vietnamese both seem flawless (I can only vouch for his English) takes your order and then disappears into the kitchen while we’re left to wait and watch Memento (which was strangely  playing on the television).

In addition to the Braised Beef (Bo Kho) banh mi, we also ordered a Pork Pho (a noodle soup), and a Seared Basa fish (a Native Vietnamese fish) summer roll. Everything around us sort of inferred that this food was going to be dirty and greasy. The tap water even tasted like grease (I think the cup had not been cleaned well enough). But surprisingly, the food was fresh and quite delicious.

I thought the pho was the least successful. The broth was rather bland and the solid ingredients (including the dry pork) didn’t help matters.  The summer roll was light and tasty and this is what I expect from Vitenamese food.  Strong on the cilantro, fresh rice paper. and the fish was a tasty meaty discovery (it’s similar to catfish).

The Braised Beef Banh Mi is one of their many creative takes on the classic sandwich. I was curious to taste their Pho Banh Mi (although if it’s as disappointing as the actual pho, I’m glad I skipped it), but was very happy with the Braised Beef. The brisket was tender and moist. The sauce reminded me a bit of Southern barbecue, but less tangy.  It was slightly sweet and sticky. The vegetables (carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, and daikon) and crusty baguette were all fresh. The only thing missing was a bit more seasoning. So I had to help myself to some sriracha (hot sauce).

The restaurant aesthetics, while interesting, were not the most comfortable. But this is cheap fast food, after all. Vietnamese fast food.  And Nhá Tôi are all those things those two thoughts imply: rough, greasy, fresh, light, and delicious.

Would Nhá Tôi’s Beef Brasied Banh Mi make my Top 100 of the year?  The unusual sandwich was tasty and filling and something I’d recommend to both fans of fresh Vietnamese food and fans of meaty, greasy Southern food. 7 out of 10.


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