Mini Review – Lunch at Saiguette

Just popping by before I head downtown to get supplies for New Year’s Eve.

Spoiler alert: I’m not cooking and we will be asleep by 10 pm, easy.

Anyway –  my sister treated me to lunch the other day and it was fabulous!

20141229_115520 Saiguette is a tiny storefront on the way UWS. It’s only a few stools, an L-shaped counter, a refrigerated glass case, and some of the tastiest Vietnamese food east of the Mississippi.  20141229_115526 I’m telling you, it ain’t fancy.  20141229_120240 Pork Belly Bahn Mi

but it is delicious. The bread is crunchy but not too dense – yielding but doughy. The consummate bahn mi bread. It comes loaded with lightly pickled cucumbers, cilantro, shredded carrots, jalapenos, and that smoky, sweet, sticky pork belly. It’s a little tougher than I usually like, but the flavor is out of this world. Next time I can’t wait o try the traditional version, with terrine and pate.  20141229_120245 Crispy spring rolls

Light, insanely hot, and so crispy that they shatter all over your jacket. Dip them in the accompanying sweet, sticky sauce and you won’t be able to stop yourself from inhaling the entire order. We almost ordered another set.

This place isn’t worth a schlep form another part of town, but if you are within 10 blocks, you should totally head there! It’s cheap, clean, and the food is tasty!

Come by tomorrow for the last post of 2014 – the year’s epic fails!

Cha Pa’s – Vietnamese in the Theater District

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I hit up Cha Pa’s because I was in that part of town. And, of course, because I love Vietnamese food. When I lived in Tucson, there was the BEST pho restaurant  – Pho 88. I spent many happy calories there. Sadly, I have been less lucky with pho here in The Big Apple. So, I headed to Cha Pa’s to see if I could get my fix. 
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The restaurant is tiny and casual – come here in jeans and a t-shirt and you will feel totally at home.  20141122_182808 Spring rolls

Lovely! Crispy and light, but filled with a dense mixture of cabbage, beanthread noodles, and ground pork. Dipped in a light, citrusy-sweet sauce, it’s just what you want when you crave spring rolls. They are fragrant, well-balanced, and addictive.
20141122_183101 Vietnamese coffee soda

Like a coffee flavored egg cream. Not my style, but if you like egg creams and coffee, this will be right up your alley! Sweet, creamy, and lightly fizzy!
20141122_183540 Shaking Steak

WOW! I have never had shaking steak before, but this is outstanding! Flank steak that is so tender that it might as well be filet mignon. It’s coated in some sort of VERY light, crispy coating and then dressed in a sweet and salty glaze. It’s served over wilted watercress and pickled onions, which add dimensions of bitterness and tang. The steak is SO tender that you can cut it simply with your teeth. It’s sticky sweet, beefy, and very rich. I would eat this again tomorrow and simply have to try making it at home.

Cha Pa’s isn’t too expensive and I love the food. However, the service is abysmal and my co-diners were less than pleased with their entrees. So, I would come here if you are in the hood and the lunch specials are cheap. Or I would order in in my pajamas.

And I’m still searching for the pho of my dreams here in NYC.

Oh Nicky’s, You’re So Fine, You’re So Fine You Blow My Mind, Hey Nicky’s!!

Is it possible to over-praise a great sandwich?  The simultaneous comfort and excitement?  The endless possibilities?  The food that can be enjoyed solo or amongst friends? It is the great food equalizer. I mean, everyone from Queen Elizabeth to The Naked Cowboy loves a great sandwich!
Though probably not together…
I was visiting my mom downtown today and stopped in at the brand new Nicky’s Sandwiches for a bite to eat.  Nicky’s specializes in Banh Mi, that fabulous Vietnamese Sandwich.   I had heard that Nicky’s, which has a location in Chinatown, was supposed to be really delicious…and so DUH!  I was all over it like a fat kid on cake…or a banh mi
I ordered a classic Banh Mi from the very friendly cashier in the front, and a mere $5.50 later, I had a sandwich the length of my arm.  It was seriously huge-what a deal!  It was also toasted, so it was warm, and the scent of cilantro and roasted pork wafted up towards me.  I tried not to drool as I hurried to Marmie’s house.
The classic banh mi came with Pâté, Vietnamese ham, roasted ground pork, pickled carrots, cucumber, cilantro and mayo on a toasted baguette.  You could choose white or wheat bread…and I’m no sucker…I went for the good old white.  I ordered mine spicy, but when I inspected the sandwich before breaking in, I realized no sriracha had been put on the sandwich. BOO!  Luckily, I had my own stockpile of the spicy stuff and applied it liberally before I dug in . You know my credo-if my nose ain’t running, it ain’t fast enough!  Then I bit in….

YUM! This is a GREAT sandwich!!  The sauteed pork was crumbly, hot, and salty.  The ham was tender and sweet, and the pate…oh LORDY the pate!  I didn’t look at it cause I don’t want to know what is in it cause I LOVED it!  So soft, peppery, and just funky enough to remind me that it was liver.  That rich, minerally taste just melted into the soft, fluffy bread.  the bread!  It was yielding and tender with just the barest crackle when my teeth sunk through it to the crisp, vinegar-y carrots and cooling cucumber.  The mayonnaise was creamy, the sriracha punched it up a hit, and the cilantro added the freshest, zippiest, herby zing to the sandwich.  Bread, Meat, Mayo, Veggies.  So All American.  So all Vietnamese.  So all delicious.  Filling, cheap, exotic,  and fresh.  Can there be anything better?  Oh yeah…next week they are adding pho to the menu 🙂  Oh Nicky, you’re so fine 🙂
Nicky's Vietnamese Sandwiches on Urbanspoon

Boi Noodles Review

I love Vietnamese food.  Fresh flavors of mint, cilantro, and lime; pungent fish sauce that makes my mouth pucker and my tastebudds sing, springy and tender rice noodles…it is as spicy as thai but without the heaviness(Though DAMN I love me some pad kee mao!) When I heard this casual offshooot of the upscale Vietnamese restaurant Boi opened in my neighborhood awhile back, I just KNEW I would have to give it a try!

Set up like Chipotle, you go down the line and pick what you want from a list of menu options, including pho, banh mi, and make your own Asian Burrito/Rice/Noodle bowls.  The restaurant was clean and sparse, with a dining section upstairs, much like any NYC deli.  The food looked clean and fresh, and the smell of lemongrass pervaded the air-things were promising!

Then I tried to order.

Have you ever been to the DMV?  Or the Post Office?  Or-my personal favorite-Wal Mart customer service? Then you have the basic idea of how difficult it was to order my meal.  In their defense, the people helping me were incredibly nice and genuinly conerned that I wanted two-yes TWO-diferent kinds of meat on my rice bowl.  After about 7 million years of me convincing them that YES I would pay the extra charge, and NO I was not going to eat all this food by myself, I got my order and left…slighly exhausted, and even MORE hungry

The first thing I unpacked was this beef pho:

.  Pronounced like “fun” without the “n”, pho is a national dish of Vietnam.  It is Vietnam’s version of American chicken noodle soup-everyone eats it when they are a kid, everyone’s own mom makes it the best, and everyone’s recipe is slightly different.  This pho was chock full of thick rice noodles, thin rice noodles, bean sprouts, mint, cilantro, and thinly sliced beef.  Looked great and tasted…

Like lemongrass scented dishwater.  Really.  No salt, no kicky bite of spice, no acid of lime, NADA.  It was warm and insanely lemongrass-y.  Now i like lemongrass as much as the next gal, but this was like I swallowed perfume-it had so much of that floral note, I felt like all the taste was at the back of the palate, going up into my nose.  Usually I am a huuuuge fan of cilantro and mint, but with all the lemongrass, these herbs just made the grassy taste of the soup even more apparent and unpleasant.

Additionally, the beef was cooked till it resembled silly putty-rubbery through and through.  Though I have been called a vampire by those who say I like my meat too rare (if the cow ain’t moving anymore, it’s fair game for me to eat), this beef was totally reprehensible in anyone’s book.  It seems to have been steamed beforehand-with ZERO seasoning-then left in a warming drawer or something before it was thrown into the underseasoned soup.

The noodles were the sole redeeming quality of this soup-not that they were homemade or especially memorable.  I just love the slippery, chewy texture of rice noodles.  So this is kind of a default compliment-sorry! 🙁

Next I got a rice noodle bowl with barbecued pork AND curried chicken meatballs (this was the cause of the  confusion when i ordered).  I topped it with all the options available-corn, carrots, lettuce, cilantro, onions, and for a sauce I chose honey hoisin (there are many differnt sauce choices-your first one is free and each one after that is a nominal charge).

Ok Boi Noodles, now we’re talkin!  The veggies were fresh, the rice noodles supple, and the pork was really great!  It tasted like a mix between Thai satay and Chinese Cha Su Bao-sweet, caramalized, and intensely porky.  It was tender enough to cut with a fork, and lean enough so you tasted the smoky, rich flavor of pork instead of unctuous fat.

The curry chicken meatball was even better!  It was made of ground chicken, rice, herbs, and coated with a light, non spicy, Japanese style curry sauce.  Fluffy, tender, and fresh with cilantro and curry, these meatballs were a standout and paired especially well with the sweet hoisin sauce.  I can’t WAIT to try to make an Asian Meatball Sub based on these babies!

 

My final dish was the classic banh mi.  When Vietnam was a French colony, the French officers who lived there brought many of their cusoms, including the famous French baguette.  Adapting to what was available locally, the French and Vietnames alike filled the baguettes with locally available fillings, and-voila!  the banh mi was born.  It is essentially an Asian style sub sandwich.  The original fusion dish!

Image via

This banh mi is the most classic variation, though you can now get banh mi filled with anything from spicy catfish to all veggies.  Mine had ham, pate, bbq pork, pickled daikon and carrots, cilantro, jalapenos, and sriracha.  It was also, as seen above, as big as my arm.  You definitely get your money’s worth as far as SIZE goes here.  But as far as taste? meh.

 

The pork was great and so were the tart pickled veggies.  But the pate was overly mushy and peppery, lacking the true liver-y taste i wanted.  The ham was a bit gristly, the jalapenos virtually heatless, and i found the bread cottony insteand of crackly and dense.  What should have been a symphony of sweet, sour, spicy, meaty, and lush, was merely a symphony of…oh well.

 

I’m bummed!  i wanted to looooove Boi Noodles!  But they are either cutting corners or simplifying the food for New Yorkers.  Either way-it just isn’t doing it for me.  Additionally, it was not especially cheap-just under 28 dollars for my order.  I did like the make your own bowl, but not enough to be able to wholeheartedly recommend it.  Come on guys-up the heat level!  give me some rare beef in my pho!  Ease up on the friggin lemongrass!  Cause I absolutely want to love ya!

 

incidentally…WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE VIETNAMESE DISH?  POST IT IN THE COMMENTS 🙂

Boi Noodles on Urbanspoon