Friday, July 15, 2005

Restaurant 52: Viet-Nam Banh Mi So 1

RESTAURANT: Viet-Nam Banh Mi So 1
LOCATION: 369 Broome St.
DATE: July 10, 2005
FOOD: House Banh Mi #1 with Ground Pork, Salami, and Sliced Pork.
BEVERAGE: Sugar Cane Juice
PRICE: $7.00

Reason #3,719 I love New York: The ease of attaining the porked paragon that is Banh Mi sandwiches.

Seemingly, the only good things to come out of French Imperialism are the works of Albert Camus and cross-cultural cuisine. This even applies to sandwiches, nowhere better exemplified than in the French-Vietnamese fusion of Banh Mi sandwiches. Using the ubiquitous French baguette as baseboard, the Vietnamese came up with an incredibly delicious and exotic version of the sandwich that is all their own.

Though the Banh Mi at Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches are better, those at the whole-in-the-wall takeout only grocery store/sandwich shop Banh Mi So 1 on Broome Street, are outstanding in their own right. While the freshness of the baguette is vital, making or breaking the sandwich from the get-go, it’s the Vietnamese components that really make Banh Mi special. The combination of shredded carrots and fresh ginger add an Asian flavored crunch to contrast the softness of the bread. Banh Mi So 1’s ingredients were commendably fresh, their taste’s vibrant, especially in the case of the vegetables. Long, pickle-esque cucumbers without the pickled, furthered the sharp, nutty crispness of the carrots and ginger. Tying all the fresh elements together were sprigs of cilantro, as robust and forthright as the Vietnam War era-Nixon administration was nefarious (see for instance, Kissinger’s unwarranted and vicious bombing of Cambodia). Cilantro is God’s answer to past European monarch’s desire for the perfect herb.

But it was not in the garden, but in the pen, the meatier topics that Banh Mi So 1 fell short of Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches. Whereas Nicky’s uses a complex and intricately creamy pork pate, Banh Mi So 1 instead used sliced pork and salami which caused the later sandwich to lack the cohesive dexterity of the former. The pate worked almost like a thick sauce, a poor man foie gras, melting from the warmth of the ground pork, whereas the salami and sliced pork provided too much additional salt to the already adequately spiced ground pork of Banh Mi So 1. Banh Mi So 1’s ground pork, golden-brown yet with a cunningly reserved amount of excess oil, was practically begging for a better companion in an otherwise near perfect sandwich. Batman had his Robin, Bill Clinton had his Lewinsky, Billy Pilgrim had his aliens, George Costanza had his hand – so too does ground pork on a Banh Mi need its pork pate. Just look at Scorcese, and how much his movies have slipped since he exchanged DeNiro for DiCaprio, to see what happens when perfect pairs are not kept in tact.

So perhaps start at Banh Mi So 1 and then advance to Nicky’s once the desire for Banh Mi had seeped into your blood. Banh Mi So 1 makes an excellent sandwich, though it needs to stop being so petty about its pate (zing!). In addition, the sugar cane juice, made one glass at a time, right after the customer orders, is simply one of the most unique and memorably created beverages out there. A bundle of sugar cane rods stand in the corner of Banh Mi So 1, which are then shucked, split, and pushed through an archaic looking machine in order for the cane juice to be extracted. It is amazing to watch, worth the $4.00 price just to witness the process. The taste of the juice itself is different, dramatically less sweet than expected, with earthy hints, the distant suggestion of lychee and a root bitterness swelling in a bold novelty of layered flavors. Viet-Nam Banh Mi So 1 might not offer the best Banh Mi in all of New York, but for a $7 lunch, you might not be able to find a more genuinely Vietnamese experience this side of Hanoi. It’s yet another one of New York’s seemingly endless secrets just waiting to be discovered.

RATING: 7.0/10

1 comment:

tara said...

Oh, banh mi, how do I love thee? A great baguette, crunchy vegetables with the brightened with cilatro, luxurious pate and salty pork. Could bliss be achieved any other way?

As you can tell, I'm a fan. It's all about the balance. And this is one case where fusion cuisine makes all the sense in the world.