If you ever find yourself going to Bensonhurst, which is—according to Google Maps—a narrow gridded rectangle tucked away in the southwest edge of Brooklyn, it's either because you live there or know someone who does. Although I have no quantitative evidence of this, the chances of anyone saying, "Hey, let's hang out in Bensonhurst this weekend even though we don't live there or no anyone who does!" is roughly 500,253.6 to one.
So why did I meet up with eight friends—Diana, Alice, Allen, Tristan, Kathy, Jeremiah, Olia, and Ian—at Pho Tay Ho? Because Diana, Alice and Allen live in Bensonhurst. And because we were hungry. And because we like Vietnamese food. And because someone named Peter, who supposedly reads this blog but is probably luuurking (poke poke!), had recommended it to Diana after a random run-in at a Japanese restaurant in Park Slope. It's a small world after all. After Allen also gave the restaurant his thumbs up, I was set on stuffing myself with lots and lots of Vietnamese food, even if that involved trekking out to Bensonhurst on a Sunday morning from Northern New Jersey. (It's not the worst experience in the world, but considerably less fun than, say, rolling around in a mountain of pillows.)
I didn't have much of a preference for what dishes to order besides that pork make an appearance at some point. Kathy probably made most of the decisions—she's trustworthy with that kind of thing, the "thing" being "choosing delicious food."
Fried squid: Fried is definitely the best form of squid. This was great. ...I mean, it was fried; would you expect sub-greatness? Anytime is a good time for soft and crispy squid chunklets.
Summer rolls: They're similar to spring rolls in that they're rolled up things filled with stuff (in this case, chopped vegetables and some fat shrimps...and other things), but not at all like spring rolls because they've skipped the step of deep-frying. Translation: they're not as good as spring rolls. (I know they taste totally different, but the shape is similar enough...the shape!) Sure, they taste nice on their own, cool and refreshing for not being subjected to burninating temperatures, but when I look at it I think, "I'd prefer a spring roll for the cylindrical part of my meal."
Spring rolls: Yay, spring rolls! The mini logs were fried to perfection—every bite caused the thin wrapper to shatter into crispy fat-soaked shards and expose...whatever was inside. Meats. Vegetables. Sorry, this meal happened a while ago. I shouldn't have to explain spring rolls to you anyway.
Green mango salad: Shredded green mango makes for a crisp and refreshing salad. But not like an apple. Like a green mango. Yup, that's all I've got. I don't think green mango has much flavor on its own, but soaks up whatever it's dressed in.
Beef soup with a baguette: I'm totally forgetting what this food tasted like. Please don't hate me. So...um, this soup. It wasn't too thick, nor thin. It contained beef. And various vegetables. If I had to guess, I'd say that it probably tasted like a mix of beef and various vegetables. The bread was supposed to replace your spoon and act as a soup sponge, but I ended up just eating it with a spoon.
Grilled pork something or other: By now you may have figured out that I didn't take notes and that I was unable to find a menu online. I need to stop assuming that the Internet has documented everything in the world, including every menu I may ever need to refer to. This is generally true for restaurants in Manhattan, but outside, less so. On that note, grilled Vietnamese pork (in this case atop "tiny rice sticks"—flat cakes of broken rice noodles—topped with crushed peanuts) can do no wrong. It's more sweet than salty, tender and full of swinely juices. A meat at a Vietnamese restaurant isn't really complete for me unless there's some form of pork.
Fried bean flour pancake filled with mung bean sprouts and other various goodies: Lacking the real name of this dish, I could've named it "my favorite dish of the meal" (yes, even beating out the beloved pork) instead, but I didn't think that'd be very descriptive. The pancake was alarmingly crisp with a medium weight to it—not too light, nor heavy. The pancake encapsulated all the goodness of fried and tasted deceptively healthy with its belly of raw mung bean sprouts.
Canh chua tom (sweet and sour soup) and ca kho to (caramelized fish): The only reason I can remember these dishes is because I had eaten them during my last Vietnamese meal with Kathy. Pho Tay Ho's version of the soup wasn't as sour as the other, for better or worse. I don't think the fish was as caramelized either. This doesn't mean they weren't still tasty.
By this point in the meal my stomach was probably doing a funny gurgling dance denoting over-fullness and the inability to fairly rate anything due to the feeling like something inside me would burst. We had so many dishes that our food had spread out to two nearby tables. Like the plague descending upon a hapless village.
Beef of some sort, bo luc lac, maybe?: This might be the shaken beef I had during my last Vietnamese meal. ...Or not.
I like having vague descriptions. I can't really get anything wrong since I already admit to not keeping track of what anything was. Haha. That's a whole bucket of fail right there.
Avocado shake: If I were to recommend Pho Tay Ho just based on their avocado shake, I'd say GO RIGHT NOW. Thick, creamy, sweet, with a hint of fatty avocado goodness. Avocado is so perfect for shakes—it's a shame the flavor isn't more conventional.
Durian shake + unhappy Jeremiah: We passed a cup of durian shake around the table like a joint. Only the most minute volume of the notoriously smelly fruit-based drink was necessary to appease each person's curiosity. Jeremiah displayed the most disgust towards the shake—with every sip (all one of them) his face scrunched up with repulsion, or about the same facial expression I make when I drink wine/hard alcohol/coffee/Tylenol Cold medicine. I didn't think the durian shake was that offensive, although I would've enjoyed it a lot more if I had a penchant for liquids that taste like an infusion of garlic and onion.
Shitloads of food for $17 per person? Now that's satisfaction.
We headed over to Villabate for a sweet Italian finish to the meal. Unfortunately, I have yet to feel the love for Italian pastries. (I'm all about the gelato, baby.) I don't mean to say that it's Villabate in particular that I'm neutral about; it's all Italian bakeries. (If you're Italian, please don't hate me. I said I love gelato! And...you know, most other Italian foods.) Their cases piled high with cookies and brightly colored cakes fail to kick my salivary glands into drooling mode. Why? ...I...I don't know. It's all flour, butter, and sugar, right? Among other things. Was I just too full? When will I get my life-changing Italian pastry eating experience?
Alice and Kathy bought these little individual cakes: something orange and creamy, and something green and marzipan-y. Kathy said her cake was too sweet. Those are some rare words, I tell you.
Allen had bought a tiramisu for his sister (and a cannoli for himself that he scarfed down in record time), unless he ended up eating it on the way home. I have nothing against tiramisu, but I can't say I love it. That probably has something to do with the coffee-alcohol combination, two things that have yet to cross over into the "Foods Robyn Can Consume With Enthusiastic Joy" list. Now, take out the coffee and alcohol and I'd be all for it. But then that's not really tiramusu, just ladyfingers and fluffy mascarpone. Which would be so awesome.
Diana gave me a pack of haw flakes from the Asian supermarket across the street. My first thought was, "What do I do with this?" It's probably a clear sign of my insufficient Chinese upbringing that I had never eaten haw flakes before. I had only heard of them in passing...these mystical flakes of haw beloved by Chinese (and other) people everywhere. When I realized it was edible, I ate it. Or tried to. After getting my first crumbly taste of the compressed fruit wafers, I think I'd only eat them if I were really, really hungry. Its ability to appease one's hunger is questionable considering that each wafer is 1 millimeter thick (easier to eat them in chunks), but it must have some caloric value.
I'll end with a cute picture of Olia munching on a cookie. Just because.