Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Midtown Vietnamese Find: Bôi 

Last week, I noticed a yellow flag waving at me from 44th Street as I walked up Second Avenue. I said to my companion, "Hmm. I never noticed that there's a Vietnamese restaurant in our neighborhood." (Meaning my work neighborhood.)

I quickly resolved to return there and try it out. And I'm very glad I did. I started my meal with the bô cha gio: crispy packets stuffed with shrimp, crab meat, pork, Shiitake mushroom and jicama, with a carrot-lime dipping sauce. Yum. It was full of wonderfully subtle flavors. I have since learned that clear, crisp and subtle flavors seem to be the hallmark of the Bôi experience.

For a main course, I had the five-spiced pork chop. This is normally pretty standard fare for a Vietnamese menu, but here it is extraordinarily well executed. First of all, they divide the greens, the pork and the sauce. In many places, they pork is dropped on the greens and the sauce is indiscriminately poured about. Separating the elements allows the diner to experience each individually and then combine them in pleasing proportions at will. The pork was nice, juicy and firm without being tough. The greens were spring-water fresh and bright. The sauce was sweet without being cloying nor, as occasionaly happens, too vinegary.

I was unable to make it to the dessert course on this first visit.

My second (birthday!) visit, I began with a soup with jumbo shrimp in tamarind broth, with tomatoes, okra, and lotus. Every individual flavor was able to be tasted in this concoction. So wonderfully distinct. You could tell that the vegetables hadn't been soaking in the broth forever, but rather added at exactly the right moment - just so.

The main course this time was the banh chay: a half-moon vegetable pancake with tofu, Enoki mushrooms, jicama, bean sprouts, napa, with a sesame-peanut dipping sauce. I've had this dish before at the wonderful SF dive Tu Lan on 6th Street off of Market. Where the Tu Lan version is runny egg-y and the elements are all cooked into a single item in the half-moon pancake, the Bôi version once again has separated the elements. The pancakes are folded around the elements as with a soft taco. Once again the flavors are lovely. Although this was a bit too large a dish, even for me.

Nonetheless, I soldiered on to the dessert course. And boy (no pun intended) am I glad I did. Sweet basil seed tapioca with pomegranate molasses, mango chutney and garnished with a touch of toasted coconut. OMFG.

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