"I think my hand smells like dog poop. Here, you sniff it."
It should only take you one guess to figure out who said this. His name rhymes with "schbleg."
At the sort of last minute on Wednesday night, I cobbled together a dinner at Cong Ly in Chinatown with Greg, Lee Anne, and Diana. My first, and only visit to Cong Ly was almost four years ago—I recall the child-sized 100-pound bag of sugar more so than the food, which tasted fine. Vietnamese food, like Mexican food, is another one of those cuisine I like but rarely eat, for the similar reason of there not being stand-out awesome Vietnamese food in the city. That's the impression I've gotten, at least. The idea to visit Cong Ly arose when, while hanging out with Greg et al., someone asked, "What's the best Vietnamese restaurant in the city?" We had no answers. (We'll take suggestions, though.)
Where does Cong Ly rate on the scale of Vietnamese Food Awesomeness? It's probably not the best, but I like it (which only mean anything if you trust my taste buds; I'm not sure you should), and it's cheap. Also, that good ol' Chinatown standard of harsh fluorescent lighting makes food photography a cinch. I love me some no-frills environment.
I almost always order cha gio (spring rolls) when I eat at a Vietnamese restaurant. What's not to love about crispy, deep fried logs filled with ground pork-n-veg, made even better by wrapping them in a mildly healthfulness-increasing crisp lettuce leaf? NOTHING. These were very crispy, somewhat light (for deep fried, meat-filled sticks), and not too greasy.
If you don't like fried things, you can fulfill your desire for meat-n-veg log with the lighter goi cuon (summer rolls) stuffed with fat shrimp, rice vermicelli, raw herbs and vegetables and probably other stuff I don't remember because I only ate half of one. (They were mostly for Diana; it's one of her favorite dishes).
Banh hoi thit heo nuong consists of two of my favorite things found in Vietnamese cuisine: sweet, grilled pork and rice vermicelli crepe, those mats of woven, super-thin rice noodles bound by their own stickiness (a coating of oil eases the stickiness factor a bit). Rice noodles are my favorite kind of noodle—they have that slightly sproingy texture that other noodles don't have, giving them body while also tasting light. I didn't mind that the pork is rather dry, although the accompaniments of crushed peanut, chopped scallion, and raw add-ins—pickled onion and carrot strips, and un-pickled cucumber—helped make the pork taste awesomer.
Our other main dish was com bo lui, strips of tender barbecued beef wrapped around scallion, maybe (man, I should take notes), over broken rice, with sliced cucumber and extraneous pallid tomato slices. There seemed to be too much rice for the amount of beef, but as someone who likes white rice a little too much, I had no problem eating the rice as is. And this was when I found out that I like broken rice, com tam, more than regular rice for its stickier and chewier texture.
I don't have a photo of the plate-o-herbs and sprouts we had (methinks for Lee Anne's bowl of pho), but during the meal I kept shoving mint and basil leaves in between mouthfuls (I eat fresh herbs like its candy), which I realize now would be quite unbecoming if I were eating around people less familiar with my uncouth eating habits. When I'm around really good friends, I tend to forget how wrong it is to chew and talk at the same time (I assume I can't repel them any further with my Robyn-ness than I already have), and then I chew and talk at the same time, which means I don't do either very well. This could explain all the...indigestion.
Oh, going back to the dog poop thing: Greg thought it was the fish sauce. None of us was willing to sniff his hand to confirm.
After getting our fill of Vietnamese food, we went to Green Tea Cafe for something sweet. Bubble tea isn't one of my favorite beverages (gasp, horror), but if I drink it at all I prefer it hot so the tapioca balls are softer. My two favorite flavors are black sesame and taro. Taro milk tea won this time, although I've drank it so often that I can't tell if it tastes like taro or "really sweet milky purple goo." Not that I have anything against the latter.
Pho Tay Ho: Vietnamese-ing in Bensonhurst
Charlottesville, Day 5: Happy New Year, Vietnamese Dinner Explosion, and Back to Jersey
Otto, Tavalon, Sandwich Shoppe, Once Upon a Tart, Bo Ky, and ice cream
Soba Koh, Doyers Vietnamese, and hot damn, I baked something
crepes, food hunt, Vietnamese, and a slice of bread
124 Hester Street, New York NY 10002 (map)
Green Tea Cafe
45 Mott Street, New York NY 10013 (map)