Currently, Saigon Social is chef Helen Nguyen’s pop-up dining experience. The location varies, but the most common spot seems to be at Boys Don’t Cry in the Lower East Side/Chinatown.
A lot of buzz has built up around her dinners – deservingly so – because she’s extremely talented. I’ve eaten her food several times in the past year, and I have to say she’s serving some of the best Vietnamese food I’ve ever had in the city.
I haven’t written about her yet because, well, up until now she’s only been doing pop-ups, and for some reason I feel like I can’t talk about pop-ups since they’re so fleeting and temporary.
But Helen is about to open a restaurant here in Manhattan, spearheading the way for great NYC Vietnamese food, along with John Nguyen (Saigon Dep), and Yen Vo and Jimmy Ly (Madame Vo and MV BBQ). Yes, I’m ignoring Brooklyn and Queens Viet food for the moment; there are some great spots out there in the sticks.
Anyway, my wife loves her food too, so that pretty much means it’s legit. Those of you that don’t yet know Helen Nguyen will be saying, “Hey, wait a fucking minute… Johnny GODDAMN Prime was talking about her, and now here she is, all over the news!” But if you read food publications, you may have seen her pop-ups featured as a “must try” for the past year.
Her bo 7 mon (“beef seven ways”) feast was incredible. Her brûlée bone marrow ended up in my top dishes of 2018, not to mention that she can seriously cook steak and makes some of the best pho around.
She knows her meat, as she is deeply connected to the Pat LaFrieda brand. At a recent pop-up, I had her garlic noodles with deep fried soft shell crab, which was incredible.
Also, her meaty fried rice with bone marrow and egg was probably one of the best rice dishes I’ve ever eaten. Highly addicting with that home made scallion oil.
Her newest creation is a banh mi burger. The perfect halfway point between American and Vietnamese, marrying the familiar flavors of both classics.
This beauty is a blend of short rib, chuck and 60-day dry-aged rib eye.
It’s topped with pate, mayo, maggi sauce, pickled carrots, cilantro and jalapeno.
What I really like about this burger is that it’s meaty as fuck but it isn’t heavy. Just like Viet food generally, it’s light, fresh, herb-ish, and healthy… but the culture is very meat-centric. And just like a banh mi sandwich, you can eat this and still walk around after, not food-comatosed and yet still craving more.
Look out for these dishes at Saigon Social, coming soon to NYC!
This spot just took over the Char House location, which was an asian steakhouse (there’s another location by Washington Square Park too). The concept here is customizable bowls of pho with tableside boilers. You can even choose how rich your broth is, like some ramen joints offer; 8hrs, 16hrs, etc. My wife and I skipped that gimmicky stuff and went with some regular menu items instead.
For starters, we tried (1) the chili and tamarind sauce chicken wings; (2) the spicy chili oil pork knuckles; and (3) the spring rolls.
All three were great. The spring rolls were pretty standard in style and format (wrap them in lettuce with herbs and veg, then dip into fish sauce). The wings were delicious and crisp, with fried shallots on top. The pig knuckles were the stars of the starters though. Fork tender, jiggly, juicy, flavorful and spicy. I loved them. They reminded me of oxtail or braised chuck stew meat.
I had the surf and turf pho, which is beef broth with a half lobster and a nice big short rib on the bone. This is hefty at $25 for a bowl, but it really satisfies. Great broth and both the lobster and the short rib were perfect.
My wife had the bun bo hue, a spicy lemongrass pork and beef soup. It was delicious, and contained a ton of different meats within.
All in, this was $85 including tax and tip. High, but very tasty.
The talented couple behind Madame Vo recently opened this joint as a way to introduce NYC to Vietnamese BBQ, which, from what I understand, is very popular in central Vietnam.
Be aware: this is not the same as American BBQ, which we all know is characterized by slow and low smoker cooking. This involves a high-heat metal mesh grill and various cuts of meat. Fast and hot, no smokers.
Also: this isn’t Korean or Japanese BBQ. While they use a similar cooking method with the grill, the flavors, preparations and beef items are obviously entirely different.
What’s really unique about Madame Vo BBQ, and what I feel sets Vietnamese BBQ apart from other grilled meat establishments, is that the traditional “Beef 7 Ways” or “Bò 7 Món” feast in Vietnamese culture really lends itself perfectly to this style of cooking.
So what is “Beef 7 Ways?” Sounds like a dream come true, right? It is. It’s also really not that difficult to figure out from its name.
“Beef 7 Ways” in Vietnamese cuisine is generally a large format family style meal where various cuts of beef are served, obviously, in seven different ways. Almost always this will involve some thin sliced beef that’s grilled or dipped in a hotpot broth. There will also almost assuredly be a spiced ground/minced beef application, often wrapped in a betel leaf. And surely there will be a finishing dish of some form of starch with beef. But all throughout, there are “summer roll” rice wrappers on the table – along with various veggies, herbs and even fruits – for you to wrap up with the beef as you eat your way through all seven courses.
Madame Vo has done a great job of elevating that traditional “Bò 7 Món” concept, refining it, and presenting it to New Yorkers in the familiar grill table format. Here’s how they present their version of “Beef 7 Ways:”
1st Way: Eye Round Carpaccio
This was great. I’ve always thought that eye round would be perfect for a carpaccio application. This Viet style carpaccio was so delicious. Great pops from the herbs, spices and sauce.
2nd Way: Meatballs
These are technically not beef; they’re pork. But delicious nonetheless, and still part of the seven.
3rd & 4th Ways: Ground Beef Wrapped in Betel Leaf & Thin-Sliced Short Rib with Onion
These are both grilled, and the betel leaf rolls were my favorite of the seven courses. They have a great fresh green kick to them from the grilled leaf.
5th Way: Five-Spice Beef Tongue
This was awesome. They’re cooked through and make for the perfect filling in those rice wraps with veggies and herbs.
6th Way: Dry Aged Strip Steak with Marrow Butter
That marrow butter was absolute crack. Here’s a little video of it getting smeared on.
7th Way: Oxtail Congee
I really liked this. It was a close pick for my favorite of the meal.
Madame Vo BBQ offers this “Beef 7 Ways” for just $59/pp. I think that’s a great deal considering the quality of the beef, the amount you get, and of course the deliciousness of the whole experience.
We didn’t stop there, though. We also had some amazing seafood apps (not included with the “Beef 7 Ways”).
Giant Oyster with Uni Mayo
These things were huge, and that uni mayo was really addictive.
Maine Uni with Special Fish Sauce Beurre Blanc
Beautiful, sweet and delicious.
These were nice and big. Tasty heads too!
The tamarind sauce on this really made it unique.
Short Rib & Marrow Spring Rolls
Loved these. I could eat a dozen easily.
And because I’m like a wild animal, I wanted more beef. We shared the Pat LaFrieda dry-aged tomahawk rib eye. At $95 for about 40oz, this is a steal.
Really beautifully presented too.
I highly recommend this place. Go with a group so you can try lots of stuff. Trust me – you won’t be disappointed!
The owner of Em, Patrick Lin, invited me in to try some of their awesome noodle dishes and sandwich creations. I was really excited about this menu.
We started with some smoothies: the classic avocado, and the watermelon. Both were really refreshing and delicious. HOLY SHIT SOMEONE ARREST THEM BECAUSE THE STRAWS ARE PLASTIC!
Then we moved right on to the sandwiches.
The first one I hit was this bacon egg and cheese banh mi sandwich:
This is perfect. It has all the familiar flavors of banh mi, but with bacon, egg and cheese to go with it. That’s a winning combo. I could eat this every day, so this was well worth the hour-long subway ride out here to Bensonhurst.
Next up was the banh bi burger.
This is actually the one “burger” that I would almost prefer to be served without cheese. This one has provolone, but I didn’t think it was necessary (clearly some might love it though). The bright, fresh herbs and acidic pickled slaw are really all you need, except for a sauce or mayo. This, too, was really tasty – cheese or no cheese.
Next, we moved on to the soups.
Hu Tieu is a pork based broth with pork rib, ground pork, and a mix of seafood (shrimp, fish balls, etc). This was light and flavorful. My wife liked this one the best out of the two.
The pho here is really nice. The broth is flavorful but not heavy, and the addition of short rib really turns this into a satisfying meal. There’s lots of brisket, eye round and meatballs in there, yet this still manages to stay light. This was my pick between the two.
For dessert, we had Vietnamese coffee tiramisu. This was super creamy and fluffy, and the coffee flavors came through nicely.
I’ll definitely be back here again to eat my way through the rest of the menu. And the good thing is that this place was packed on a Sunday for lunch. People are really digging this place, and so am I.
I dropped into this Vietnamese joint for a quick bite when I was on my way to pick up a Christmas gift for my wife. I was wearing a nice shirt, having just come from work. Naturally, as a stain-magnetic asshole, I was worried about splashing pho all over myself. So instead of ordering soup, I went with egg rolls and banh cuon.
Both were decent, and it’s funny how similar both the menu and restaurant set up is to Thai Son, which I believe is a sister restaurant to this joint down by the Civic Center that my wife and I used to frequent when we lived nearby. In any case, not a bad spot, but also not an amazing spot. It’s good for a Viet food fix.
My wife and I went to Hanoi House with some friends. I wasn’t expecting such a great showing of Vietnamese food, as NYC is notoriously not that great for the cuisine. I was pleasantly surprised.
We started with a beef tongue sandwich that we split among the four of us. I didn’t shoot it, but man was it delicious. The tongue was braised and super tender, and dressed with chili, lime, cilantro, and a coconut curry type sauce. Just the right balance of savory, spicy and sweet. A must order.
We also shared an order of summer rolls, which were filled with shrimp, pork, herbs, and crispy egg roll skin (all inside the soft rice paper wrap). These were the best I’ve had in NYC (I also failed to get a photo of these – apologies).
The pho was fantastic. The broth was more robust and murky than other places I’ve been. While many pho bowl slingers strive for a clear, almost consomme-like broth, this place embraced the opposite. I could taste the herbs and spices that simmered for hours.
I added the marrow and braised oxtail into the mix, which upped the cost by $8, but it was totally worth it. This is currently my favorite bowl in NYC. Hands down.
My wife ordered this beautiful and delicious lobster noodle dish, which also had some pork roll in the mix as well. The noodles were perfectly cooked, and the portion size was generous, especially considering it was a good sized lobster.
I highly recommend this place for anyone looking to get their Vietnamese food fix.
Madame Vo is a Vietnamese joint on 10th Street near 2nd Avenue.
My wife and I have been itching to go, since we have been on a quest to find good Vietnamese food in NYC since the early 2000’s. I think we finally found it here, so let me give you the rundown of our meal.
First, Autumn Rolls. These are soft rice wrappers filled with jicama, egg, sausage and shrimp. The brilliant thing about these is that they’re sauced with a brush of hoisin prior to wrapping. Just a little hit of sri racha and you’re all set. They’re delicious.
Next up, the “Madame Pho” soup. This is served with short rib.
Awesome deep, rich beefy flavor. No sauces needed whatsoever. The broth is on point. And the meats are all high quality. It has a variety of cuts like flank, brisket, meatballs, eye round and marrow. But that short rib! So good. And the noodles were cooked perfectly.
The Bun Bo Hue, however, was even better. It’s very hard to find good pho in NYC, but it’s even harder to find good bun bo hue.
So many times, bun bo hue noodles are overcooked and fall apart when you try to pick them up with chopsticks. Here, they are nicely cooked and hold up to pulling and grabbing. The broth has a great pungent richness, bright with herbs and lime, and really deeply satisfying. Just the right amount of heat, too.
Last, the rib eye Bo Luc Lac, or “Shaking/Shaken Beef.”
I’ve often seen this made with lean cuts like sirloin and sometimes filet. This is the first time I’ve seen it made with rib eye, and also the first time I’ve seen it served with an egg.
The result is a nice sticky sweet molasses flavor, with a great sear from the sizzling cast iron skillet. The fat rendered out nicely, making for a delicious sauce sludge through which to drag your rice. I really enjoyed this dish, and it’s a perfect example of what a good chef can do with a choice grade cut of beef when he – in this case, Jimmy – knows how to coax out great flavor. 7/10.
For dessert, we shared a nice avocado shake. While pricey at $8 (avocados are expensive these days), its filling and well made. Not too sweet, and super creamy.
This little take-out joint slings a pretty decent banh mi. I haven’t tried their Vietnamese food yet, but I can at least give a run down of their “classic” sub. I put the word “classic” in quotes, because there really isn’t much pate, head cheese or other items that would make this a classic viet sandwich. Perhaps they gave me the roast pork shoulder by mistake? Not sure. It could just be that they’re using different ingredients from the other shops.