Obssesion du jour//Bahn Mi & Pho

Stop me before they come after me

Stop me before they come after me

Sure. It’s could be seen as a “problem” or a slight OCD type of disorder but what’s it to you anyways. I love bahn mi sandwiches and pho and dumplings and I usually like to have them all at once so I can pick and choose what I was to taste mmmkay? Sheesh. Tough crowd.

Errr…Moving on.

I recently just happened to find myself at several places in NYC where I would have diiiied if I didn’t try some foodstuffs. First, there was Saigon Bahn Mi, located in the back of a jewelry store in Chinatown. This was hands down one of the two best bahn mi sandwiches I’ve had (the other being at Bahn Mi So on Broome Street). The bread was nice and crusty and the pork was juicy, fresh and well marinated. The crucial thing that Saigon Bahn Mi is lacking is a decent seating area but I suppose that is part of the charm…and for $3.75 for a large sandwich that even I, yes, moi couldn’t finish, I won’t complain (much).

I ate all of you.
Nicky's Bahn Mi. The photo sucks but then again so does the sandwich.

The next place I suddenly found myself dining at was Nicky’s Vietnamese in Cobble Hill, Crooklyn.

The other weekend, a friend, confidant and the original D-bag, “Baby” Jason insisted on coming to the borough of Kings for lunch and a movie. We were aiming for Indian food as a preview – an appetizer, if you will, to Slumdog Millie but I changed my mind and headed for the pho at Nicky’s.

Nicky’s, being a gem in the “casual southeast asian” dining category is very welcome in the so-called hip area of Cobble Hill and the tired dining scene on Smith and Court Streets (save for Lucali and  Prime Meats)  The setting is as casual as they come but the pho was outstanding. Maybe it was the cold or the hunger but their deep bowl of beef broth with noodles, beef, bean sprouts, hot sauce was pretty outstanding with each ingredient cooked to perfection and the broth was a shining, flavorful, umami star.

Nicky's Pho-nomenal.
Nicky's Pho-nomenal.

The Bahn Mi at Nicky’s verged on tasteless, boring and uninspired. I have no idea what happened here and I was shocked, dismayed and disillusioned as I chewed on this flavorless sandwich. It wasn’t that the individual ingredient were bad, the bread seemed nice and fresh and the meat looked good, but when they came together they didn’t, ahem, come together. As the French say, tant pis…

Nah Trang. I slurp you into my tummy.

Now, for one of the tastier and more unique recessionista-friendly, all star “casual southeast Asian” dining spot, I present to you the Vietnamese gem: Nha Trang. Located down one of the cleaner streets in Chinatown (that would be Baxter), Nha Trang is easily mistaken for yet another hole in the wall Asian restaurant; but let us not judge quickly, let us spend an hour in the bustling space that keeps downtown hipsters, uptown gastronomers and the local Asian population well fed.

First order of business is to get the spicy beef pho, always. Just do that and you have almost achieved nirvana but not until you dash one of the many sauces they have displayed at each table (Sriracha, fish sauce , Nuoc Nam) . Just be careful not to make it too spicy (rookie mistake). Second order of business: stay away from the chicken, it’s possibly the mosy “chickeny” and cheap chicken you will ever taste and it’s downright awful. We went through 2 chicken dishes before we just gave up on. Next up, the other white meat and quite possibly, the only one: pork.

Nem nuong or barbecued pork paste is a unique and fun dish made up of slices of marinated and barbecued pork, cilantro, bean sprouts and lettuce leaves with which you make a wrap and douse in one of the many savory sauces that lay splayed on the table. My preference is the Nuoc Nam sauce which lends a vingery, spicey and refreshing kick to the wrap. I seriously day dream about this dish. Srsly. Nem nuong makes for the perfect appetizer: utensil free, refreshing and crunchy with an intense flavor.

NEXT up: Hanco’s in Cobble Hill.

I didn't take pictures so here's the menu.
I didn't take pictures so here's the menu.

Hanco’s is quite literally, a hole in the wall, albeit a charming and shabby-chic-ish one. Located on a quiet street in Cobble Hill, the patrons of Hanco’s looks more like the cast of Thirtysomething versus the Asian locals one gets in Chinatown. That’s ok though since I look like I belong on Gossip Girl or The City, hmmm. Moving on.

I’ve been to Hanco’s twice in the last month and found it to be rather inconsistent. One my first visit I almost died from how good the Bahn Mi was. I almost (almost) orderd another to take home with me but the post-Holiday calorie Gods said no GG, don’t yee do this for yee shall suffer the almighty wrath of going up one jeans size, and we know we can’t afford that mmkay? Though this was one of the “pricier” Bahn Mi sandwiches it was a beautiful specimin, served in a delightful wax paper baggy similar to those that egg rolls come in. I got the spicy version which proved to be too spicy even for moi so I had to pick out the jalapeno peppers that were hidden in the creases of pork-love.

The second time I went the pork meat in the sandwich was ground to the point of being mushy. It simply was not as delightful or refined as the first sandwich had been. This greatly disappointed me but all was solved by the crack-like Vietnamese iced coffee. One cup of that and you’ve just saved yourself from the guilt of buying a crack rock.

Ok. I’m done writing this monster post.


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5 thoughts on “Obssesion du jour//Bahn Mi & Pho”

  1. Yeah, everyone knows Saigon’s the best in town.

    Went to Hanco’s this weekend in the Slope (just opened) and it was like, 30 people that were aged exactly 36 with one hand on a stroller. They were all banh mi-less and looking pissed off.

  2. Everyone loves a sandwich. From the lowly grilled cheese to burgers, subs and beyond everyone has a favorite. Mine use to be the Italian sub. I used to salivate just thinking about eating one but it has been replaced. Replaced by a sandwich I had only been aware of but had never had – the Bahn Mi sandwich.

    Say what you will about Colonial oppression but when the French left Vietnam two exceptional items remained, the baguette and mayonnaise. Take the baguette fill it with grilled pork, chicken etc. and spicy mayonnaise – add julienne cucumber, carrot, Cilantro and Jalapeno peppers (all Vietnamese ingredients). This is the Bahn Mi sandwich.

    I had been dying to try Vietnamese food for some time and finally got my chance recently. After doing some research I ended up at Que Hong in Madison Heights Michigan. In spite of a full menu I was out for one thing, the Bahn Mi sandwich. Although there are numerous versions Que Hong offer 4 types of the Bahn Mi. The Bahn mi dac biet (Steam pork and belly roll), Bahn mi ga (chicken), Bahn mi thit nuong (grilled pork) and Bahn mi bi (shredded pork and pork skin). The first thing that struck me was the bread. The crispy outside complemented the extremely tender inside. This was the best baguette I have had anywhere. The filling was a masterpiece of textures and flavors.Salty, sweet, sour and spicy were perfectly complemented by the richness of the meat and the crunch of the vegetables.

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