East Village

EV Bites – Taco Crawl

Tacos Morelos

Tacos Morelos

EV Bites is a new monthly feature, showcasing 5 places in or around East Village you should know about.  I will occasionally extend the border to Nolita and LES, and maybe even mention a name more than once.  East Village in case you are not aware is an incubator for top industry talent, and a goldmine of world cuisines.

In this issue I’ll focus on Tacos.  In case you’ve been living under a rock, or in Staten Island, you are missing out on a Taco renaissance.  These are the golden years for taco lovers, and its just getting better and better.  This crawl features 4 places and an unrelated dessert that is convenient to the crawl.  The only thing to keep in mind here is that Empellon usually opens at 4 (1pm on weekends), and the dessert place may be closed in the evening.  So check the times.  Its best to do this on weekends.

Shrimp Tacos at Otto’s Tacos – I’ve tried every taco here over the years but I keep coming back for this deliciousness.  A good example of the so many NYC mini chains today that started in East Village.  Try the Horchata here as well

Carnitas at Taqueria Diana – While I prefer the Hell’s Kitchen location, this is solid enough.  The sitting may be sparse but this is a walking crawl, not a sitting one

Break time – Check out The Museum of American Gangster, and the prohibition era speakeasy on St Marks

Beer Braised Tongue at Empellon Al Pastor –  The namesake taco is excellent, but once I discovered the Pork tongue it was no going back.  Its all in that delicious, tangy sauce they make that elevates this thing.

Cochinita Pibil at Taco Morelos – This s possibly the most authentic of the bunch, and East Village overall.  Wonderful, tender, slow roasted pork on a homemade tortilla is hard to beat.

Break time – Check out whats happening in Tompkins Square Park, my favorite NY park.

Almond Croissants at Patisserie Florentine – Finish with some of the best Almond Croissants you’ll find in NYC.  Though the Canelles arent too shabby either

One of these stops is an important stop on this world famous East Village tour

Enjoy!

 

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EV Bites – June 2018

Szechuan Mountain House - Chicken with Chili

Szechuan Mountain House

EV Bites is a new monthly feature, showcasing 5 places in or around East Village you should know about.  I will occasionally extend the border to Nolita and LES, and maybe even mention a name more than once.  East Village in case you are not aware is an incubator for top industry talent, and a goldmine of world cuisines.

Szechuan Mountain House – I’ll start with the most important one and the one worthy of its own post.  Lately we are seeing quite a few of these Queens establishments spilling out into the city and this one is possibly the most important one.  There was no need to wait for word of mouth, or reviews as it got popular from day one.  I sometimes SMH at the lines to SMH.  This is not for the faint of heart though.  The menu is loaded with “Mala” tingle triggers like the beef Slices with Enoki Mushrooms in Sour Soup, and Stir Fried Chicken with Dry Red Chili Peppers.  The only dish I didnt care for after 4 visits is the dry Shrimp with garlic.

Miss Lily’s 7A Cafe – In my constant pursue of jerk chicken perfection after Ma Peche dropped its wings from the menu, I think I found them at Miss Lilys east side little sister.  But there’s a lot more going on in this Jamaican diner, starting with the party scene (pray that its someone’s birthday that day) and the hefty and juicy jerk chicken roti

Miss Lily's 7A Cafe - Wings

Uncle Boons Sister – I almost gave up on this fast casual little sister after a curious fried Skate dish that stayed on the menu for about 5 minutes.  My facial expressions probably did it.  And you can very easily see everyone’s facial expressions in the 5 tables inside this hole in the wall.  Its not super comfortable but its quick and easy, and sometimes at 4 pm that is what you want.  Try the fiery fried chicken Laab, and the flavor packed Thai basil stir fry with fried egg

Uncle Boons Sister - Fried Chicken Salad

Superiority Burger – Lets not talk about why it took me all these years to finally try this celebrated burger, but concentrate on this:  Its fu$#ng awesome!  For someone like me who will never crave a veggie burger, I essentially need to be passing by while about to pass out in order to have this.  This little guy had a lot more going for it than any Shake Shack burger I ever had.  And today I came back for seconds and added the famous Broccoli salad and the infamous Superiority Water!

Martina – For Dessert!  East Village is loaded with amazing ice cream.  Once you are done with the pizza and the best white bean dish in NYC, try the Fior di Latte soft serve at Martina.  But you must add the toppings especially the cherries in order to make this do its magic

RIP Anthony Bourdain

 

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Le Sia – The Accidental Cajun

Le Sia CrawfishSo what exactly happens when one opens a restaurant on one of the most heavily trafficked sidewalks in East Village?  Nothing really in this case.  For the same reason that visitors may not even notice one of the most beautiful churches around, the Ukrainian Catholic church.  They usually miss Streecha, the church cafeteria serving homey stuffed cabbage and pierogies.  They miss the Hebrew Actors Union, the headquarters of Yiddish actors forming the US first actors union.  And they walk right passed Le Sia, a new gem serving Beijing style street food.  They miss all that because they are on a mission to get to the Taj Mahal of New York pubs and the oldest bar (disputed by some historians but thats for another time in another life), McSorley’s.  It feels like at any given time, 90% of the tourists in East Village are inside McSorley’s, while 5% are looking for it.

But a quick peak inside the French sounding Le Sia, a few doors up and you see a bustling crawfish and skewers fest, packed with locals.  But that wasnt the case during the first few months.  A perfect example of a mom/pop (more like mom/friend in this case) relying almost exclusively on word of mouth which is spreading like wildfire.  And fire is what you get when ordering their seafood boils and some of the other dishes.  They did finally get some coverage from Eater, but that was already after waits started to form.

You get the sense that the folks at Le Sia have the kitchen experience but not so much restaurant managing experience, but you got to start somewhere.  Head chef and one of the owners used to work at the famed DaDong in Beijing.  The idea here is to create something common in Beijing, somewhat available in Flushing and Sunset Park, but lacking in Manhattan.  In fact I didnt even know crawfish boils were a thing in China until I passed by the Sunset Park place too many times.  The Cajun/Louisiana connection mentioned by some of the Yelpers, is purely coincidental.  And to add fuel to the fire, or maybe showing some humor they offer Chinese Jambalaya.

Le Sia - Mung Bean

And that sweet and spicy Jambalaya ladened with crawfish, peas and egg is a sharp upgrade over the common Chinese Fried Rice.  The skewers are cheap ($1.50-3) and mostly good but somewhat uniform in flavor.  Liberal use of Cumin seeds is like an homage to the shuttered Biang! nearby.  My favorites so far are the chicken wings, gizzard, sausage, and beef wrapped with Enoki.  They have some interesting cold dishes like Sichuan Cabbage which I’d pass in favor of the Spicy Mung Bean Jelly (Liang Fen) with one of those fermented black beans sauces you want to dip your fingers in, which I did.  This could be the dish to get here besides the crawfish.

The boiled crustaceans are sold by the pound.  Between the crawfish on one night, and crawfish and crab combo on another, the crawfish was fresher tasting and the clear winner.  You select the spice level and the sauce.  I went for the Herbal and “medium” which in this case proved spicy enough.  The crawfish comes from Louisiana at the moment, and most likely that will be the case until June when the season ends.  Then they will either get it from California or serve frozen.

Another winner one night was the butterflied garlicky eggplant side.  Some of the dishes like the standalone Enoki missed the mark.  While I normally like Enoki prepared as such, the seasoning here proved a little too strong for the delicate mushrooms.  The grilled scallop featured some tasty glass noodles but not the scallop itself.  They just got the liquor license but the beer list is a little pedestrian at the moment.

Le Sia
11 E 7th St (2nd/3rd), East Village
Rating: 2 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Crawfish, Chinese Jambalaya, Spicy Mung Bean Jelly, Eggplant
Skewers: Chicken Wings, Gizzard, sausage, and beef wrapped with Enoki

 

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East Village Street Art

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In my next life I want to live in the East Village.  Preferably between the ages of 17-24, before I move back to my wealthy family home in Croatia, and eventually settling down in the outskirts of Hell’s Kitchen or Upper West Side as a commercial pilot that flies to Italy every other time.  Its in the contract!  I will retire early again, giving food tours in Puglia, and on occasion visit my three daughters, all living in the East Village.  One of them is called Tamar (inside joke)

But until then, I will enjoy the area as a frequent visitor.  The food drew me at first, way before I started exploring it as a registered tour guide.  But I quickly realized there’s a lot more to it than food.  There’s a level of quirkiness not seen anywhere.  There’s a store on St Marks entirely devoted to Marshmallows!  So last October it took me and my big boy camera three visits to take pictures of all the art I could find.  These are just some of the results…

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The Curious Case of Gino Sorbillo, Pizza Legend

Sorbillo MargheritaAnticipating a famous Pizzaiolo grand opening in NYC is like anticipating flu season.  You hear about it in the media long before it arrives.  You wonder if you should do something about it this time, because you kinda like this life thing.  Then you end up forgetting all about it and doing nothing.  I dont recall ever standing in line for pizza, and I dont recall ever taking a flu shot.  Perhaps you can get the flu while standing in line in this brutal cold?  Not really sure, and not about to take any chances in what seems like the worst flu season in recent memory.  My family needs me.  I think.

If I could fit a longer title it would have said something like this, “Gino Sorbillo – love at first bite, hate at last”.  Ok, that sounded much longer in my head.  But it was really a tale of two visits for me at this highly anticipating pizza opening.  I should really do a third visit, but my wallet has other ideas in mind these days (Uncle Boons Sister, Madame Vo, Martina, etc etc).  More about the wallet thing later.  But we are talking about a pizza legend from Napoli opening his third location after Napoli and Milan.  NYC is certainly the right place to flaunt this kind of skill.  But we are talking about New York Pizza city after all.

If you read this blog longer than a few months or took my East Village tour, you know that New Yorkers live and breath pizza.  We have Neapolitan, Roman, NY style pie and slice joints, Detroit, Chicago, Staten Island, State Island bar, grandma, grandpa, and baby pizza at our finger tips.  Ok, I made the last one up but you get the idea.  New Yorkers are surrounded by pizza, and many of them are really really good.  That includes Neapolitans like Keste, Don Antonio, Eataly, and even some obscure places like Brunetti and Pasquale Jones dishing out well crafted awesomeness.  Opening a pizza place in NYC, and especially East Village requires some major chaloopas, but we New Yorkers welcome any such thing with open mouths.  Perhaps if the place was a little more unique like offer free flu shots with the pizza, New Yorkers would pay more attention

On both visits the place was almost empty.  Granted it was on my after touring hour of 3pm, but I still expected bigger crowds considering the hype.  The first thing I noticed is how large the pizzas are.  At around 13-14 inch they seem to be an inch or two larger than your average city Neapolitan.  That makes it even more of a challenge to fold these babies as the Neapolitans are naturally soggy in the middle.  We should be lucky that these imports are even cutting them for us.  Curious if they cut it for mayor De Blasio who visited both NY and Naples locations.

The first pizza I tried, Margherita with Buffalo mozzarella was outstanding.  Ingredients really popping, with a soft, airy crust that was folded almost like a calzone due to the size of the slices.  Even though the slices didnt hold their own, the flavors were there.  By my second visit I was ready for the Nduja which is becoming one of the more popular pies here.  The first few bites were promising but I got bored fairly quickly with this one.  The spicy salami spread (Nduja) was alright, but couldnt save the rest of the pie that includes uneven crust with Roman-like crunchiness at times.  This time each slice was totally falling apart when you lifted them to the point of (chills) fork and knife consideration.  And at almost $30 after tip/tax the cost/flavor ratio really took off for my liking.  A few blocks out at Martina, that ratio comes back to earth with individual pies costing a third of this, while still filling.

So while not a strong recommendation, I do encourage you to try this pizza legend and form your own opinion.  At the very least, you may get a Ratatouille moment reminiscing about your time in Napoli where you wanted to try the famous Sorbillo pizza, but just couldnt cross the street!

Sorbillo Nduja

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Somtum Der – For Babies Who Lunch

Somtum Der - Goi HedIts time to bump up this Z-Lister and one of my favorite Thai in NYC.  All these recent Thai posts can only mean one thing.  Its getting freakin cold!  And when its cold I like to eat spicy things.  And we are also just about outta here to escape this cold front.  But this time we are trying something new.  We are leaving for something colder instead of warmer (no TCI).  The idea is that by the time we come back, we can enjoy better weather.  At least thats what we are convincing ourselves.

A few weeks after dining at Ugly Baby I found myself surrounded by them at the most unexpected of places.  It was like a Thai mommy and me and Papaya salad event at Somtum Der on a weekday afternoon.  And I suddenly felt this urge I never felt before… calling random babies ugly.  No, its not me losing my marbles, but really it felt more of a Mitsvah.  As I mentioned before, in Thailand apparently you call random babies ugly in order not to attract the ugly spirit.  I even asked the waitress while chewing on their fried chicken (good as usual) and she confirmed.  She then remarked how they always say the opposite in regards to many other things for this reason.  But when I mentioned how awful their food was she gave me a look and said this doesnt apply to food.

Not much has changed at Somtum Der since they opened 4 years ago.  Its usually fairly empty when I’m there but thats because I’m usually there between lunch and dinner (after a tour).  The funky looking room that is not quite East Villagy is bright and colorful hence well received by ugly babies and bloggers.  And there’s a side of me that loves menus with pictures, huge colorful pictures.  Thats how I pick travel books.

When in Rome… I der you not to start with the Somtum (Papaya salad).  You see what I did there?  Any of the pictured salads will do, but I’m partial to the ones with the salted eggs.  But every meal at Somtum usually starts and ends with Moo Rong Hai Der, the house special grilled marinated pork.  Its playful and delicious.  I love sucking on those coconut rice sticks and dipping everything in that fish sauce including car keys.  The fried chicken as mentioned is Thigh meat which can be tough and stringy at times but always delicious.

But perhaps the best thing I’ve eaten at Somtum Der as of late was a mushroom special called Goi hed.  Name perhaps was invented by someone who thought the Beech mushrooms reminded them of uncircumcised penises (get it?).  It has all the elements of a nice and spicy Larb but without those chewy beeches losing that command.  A very well balanced dish that was perhaps part of a November mushroom celebration, but it could still be around if you hurry.  Love me a good mushroom dish

Somtum Der
85 Avenue A (East Village)
Rating: Two Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Lemongrass Juice, Goi hed, Sa Poak Kai Tod Der, Moo Ping Kati Sod, Moo Rong Hai Der, Tum Thai Kai Kem

 

 

 

 

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Ikinari Steak is a Standout

Ikinari Steak Rib EyeYou may as well forget everything you know about Ikinari, the latest Japanense import to hit the streets of NYC.  The gimmick of standing while eating quickly caved in to stressed out New Yorkers.  While thousands of runners are running the NY marathon as we speak, the rest of us creatures of habit having major difficulties coming to terms with the idea of eating while standing.  Eating while walking is acceptable.  Standing, not so much.

In a way I was disappointed to be offered a seat when me and my friend showed up as I was all ready to have this new experience.  I even trained for this.  I ate a fruit salad while watching TV, clocking at 3 minutes and 40 seconds standing time before collapsing.  The next day I almost made it to 5 minutes of couscous, which requires higher concentration, balance and hand mouth coordination.  But the big steak test never arrived.

Ikinari is a new concept in NYC, and its surprising that it hasnt been done before.  A fast-casual steakhouse.  Steak is arguably the most sought after food item for locals and tourists alike, but is not very affordable.  A good steak in an average steakhouse will run you over $50.  Similarly we made lobster affordable over time with fast food lobster rolls available all over, so why did it take this long for steak.  I cant really answer except to say its here, and by the sound of it it, here to stay.  The natural progression is usually for a place like this to open in East Village, and then if successful spread to areas like Hell’s Kitchen before spilling elsewhere.  But in this case the plan already in the works to open 7 NYC locations by the end of the year.Ikinary Steak Rice

So how does it work?  Good question Timmy.  You get your steak options (Sirloin, Filet, Ribeye) and the amount you want, just like buying steak in the supermarket pretty much.  We shared a 15oz Ribeye that was grilled to a beautiful rare hot pink.  Unless you require it any other way, it is best to follow their recommendation and order it rare.  The steak is simply seasoned with pepper and continues to cook on the sizzling plate.  By the time we were done with it, it was getting closer to medium.  While it wasnt exactly top steakhouse quality ribeye, it was a nicely cooked satisfying ribeye aided by the dollop of garlic butter on top.

Another must dish here is the garlic pepper rice.  It comes sizzling with corn, and pieces of almost raw meat that are cooked enough by the time you (or the waiter) mixes it all.  Corn is the vegetable of choice here that also comes with your steak (with some onions).  The entire experience almost feels like eating steak in my backyard.  They give you a selection of sauces including a warm, salty soy based that they advise pouring on the meat.  But after trying some of it, we were glad we didnt, and instead opted for the sweeter sauce in the smaller container.  Final bill: no drinks, $23 per person for a steak dinner!  Except that this was lunch

Ikinari Steak
90 E 10th St (4/3), East Village
Rating: Two Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Steak, Garlic Pepper Rice

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Martina is a Game Changer

IMG_6848Its a girl!  Marta, the NoMad Roman powerhouse, and a staple of the Z-List, gave birth to 10 inch, 2 lb, Martina.  Proud papa Nick Anderer resumes the quest for a full Roman invasion of NYC.  While he has plenty of Roman competition these days, Anderer is clearly the main man when it comes to the Roman stuff with his M&M’s (Maiailino, Marta, Martina).  All part of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality group, and the person that gave us Shake Shack.

Sometimes I write about a place that makes me pause and ask myself if I really want to spread the word on this one.  Its called PTCS, Pure Thai Cookhouse Syndrome.  When I was working in Hell’s Kitchen, in order to eat at Pure, we had to sneak out at exactly 12.5 minutes before noon, in order to get a table.  Four times a year I would have unannounced drills, just to make sure everyone is on their game.  Sharing is Caring is something my parents never taught me really.  It was more like Sharing or I’m Coming Over with a Belt.  I’m sharing alright, but this is the one place I will frequent often by all looks and tastes, so I would like to be able to come whenever I feel like.

But Martina is far removed from the tourist zones of Times Square, High Line and Little Fake Italy.  Its all part of the joys of eating in East Village where 90% of the tourists are at Mcsorleys, 5% are trying to locate Mcsorleys, while the rest are lost trying to figure out under Guinness influence how to get back to Times Square from Mcsorleys.  Another advantage to Martina that you dont see much these days is that they open at 11 am.  Even if you add the 6 hours to accommodate for the time difference, similar pizzerie in Rome are still closed (Most open at 8)IMG_6698

So why is baby Marta a Game Changer?  Because we dont really have anything like it in the pizza capital.  Every week or so it seems we have a new $17 Neapolitan or NY or Detroit style opening but there’s really nothing out there like Martina.  The pies are just about the same size as a Neapolitan but they are flatter all around and much cheaper ($7-$12).  Anderer essentially created a new category.  The idea was to make a more affordable version of Marta in a fast-casual environment.  Yes, I said “fast-casual”, like the big boys

Since Martina opened a month ago, I’ve essentially become their Mashgiach (Kosher inspector).  I go every now and then to check the progress, while eating some of the best new pizza in town.  In the efficient gas oven at Martina the crust loses some of the Marta crispiness but its not such a bad thing.  The thin crust retains a pleasant chew that feels more balanced.  Anderer created a pizza lineup that include Roman classics like Quattro Formaggi with tomato sauce and arugula (most NY Quattro Formaggi are white), and a Capriocciosa (artichokes, ham, mushrooms, black olives, mozzarella & egg).  Both of which he learned from his extensive Roman training.  It also includes playful combinations like Brussels Sprouts Cacio e Pepe, and a Diavola with pickled hot peppers.  It might be the lightest, most perfectly sized individual pie in NYC today, especially once you factor in the price

And if you are a Marta fan, you’ll be glad to see Suppli and meatballs on the menu among other starters and salads.  And not to mention a proper finisher like the Fior di Latte ice cream with your choice of chocolate-amaro sauce, candied hazelnuts, olive oil, and sea salt. Ready, set, Go!

Martina
198 E 11th (3rd ave), East Village

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Fiaschetteria Pistoia – Under the Alphabet Sun

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April 2nd, 2018 Update:

Turns out Pistoia handles family style like they do with their families in Tuscany.  A feast for the ages for $55, house wine included.  Highlights:  The oh so silky prosciutto I cant get enough here.  The tiny but potent Zucchini flan.  One of the best simple Spaghetti with red sauce I’ve had in a while.  Perfectly cut and cooked Pappardelle topped with hearty slow braised meat ragu.  And delicate veal cutlets braised with Tuscan wine.

I rarely get this much satisfaction from a group.  The big reason is the people running the place.  You are not dealing with a corporation and an expensive super fixed menu.  You are dealing with owner Emanuelle who will not nickle and dime you and will make sure everyone leaves satisfied.  One of my favorite new Italian in NYC.

September 26th post:

There’s Off the Beaten Path, and then there’s Avenue C.  When I first heard of Fiaschetteria Pistoia about 6 months ago, I had to see it to believe it.  You hear about places open in Alphabet City, but rarely so far east.  Its a good news, bad news situation for residents and the many students who call East Village and Alphabet City their home.  It’s great to see businesses open and thrive, but at the same time we may be looking at a rent squeeze.  On the bright side, I’m now able to sit outside on Avenue C.  Something I wasnt able to do not too long ago during the more violent days of the Alphabet (I’m using Marvel lingo here.  As in “we need to defend our [Hell’s] kitchen)

You almost assume that any town just outside of Florence would be sleepy when compared to the tourist mecca nearby.  But Pistoia, just west of Florence on the road to Lucca (another gem) is filled with culture and nightlife.  And in the middle of that nightlife is Fiaschetteria La Pace, the big brother of Fiaschetteria Pistoia.  Fiaschetteria, in the more traditional sense means a small wine bar, more associated with Florence.  Back in the day, Tuscan wine was brought in from the vineyards in straw-bottomed bottles called Fiasche and sold in these tiny open wine bars, like street food.  A dying breed just like the Lower East Side Jewish delis that once roamed around the area where Pistoia calls home

Pistoia is as far removed from Italian/American as a place can be in NYC.  Much of the staff including the cooks, a family and friends affair, from you guessed it, Pistoia.  A human pasta machine in full display busy making the Picci, a rarity in NYC because its slightly more labor intensive.  Limited but adequate English throughout adds to the charm.  Even the wine “menu” may seem strange to some.  A basket with 8 house wines, dropped on a table or chair near you to explore and sniff.

There’s only one thing that sings Tuscany more than Picci.  Pappa can you hear me?? Pappa al Pomodoro a rustic dish not so easily found in NYC.  Mainly because tomato mush (“Pappa”) with stale saltless Tuscan bread doesn’t usually scream fine dining.  But this is indeed a good one.  Many may also bulk at the idea of Picci served Cacio e Pepe style.  But in south Tuscany this kind of Roman influence is common, and Picci got a bit more of a bite.  And yes, you even have a Cinghiale (wild boar) sighting here.  Here it is served with Maccheroni, a pasta that is a little more generic than I’m usually led to believe.  I was expecting tube shape, but got flat noodles that you can use to make little tacos with that meat Fiaschetteria Pistoia Pappa al Pomodoro

In Pistoia, Maccheroni Sull’Anatra (slowly cooked duck ragu) is usually served on an annual July festival.  In Alphabet city I can get it any day now.  This regular (I’m told) special became my favorite pasta here after three visits.  On the last visit, I also enjoyed Crostone Fagiolino, another Pistoia specialty of bread topped with cooked prosciutto, chicken liver and Mushrooms.  Eating this requires a little work, but it pays off overtime.  Standards like Prosciutto and Tiramisu are top notch here.  Tiramisu is so good in fact that I havent tried any other desserts here.

Fiaschetteria Pistoia
647 E 11th (Off C), East Village
Rating: 2.5 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Any of the Prosciuttos, Zucchini flan, Pappa al Pomodoro, Crostone Fagiolino, Spaghetti, Pappardelle, Maccheroni Sull’Anatra, Picci Cacio e peppe, Tiramisu

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Madame Vo – Real Vietnamese Housewives of East Village

Madame VoThis post was supposed to be about the other housewife, from Hanoi.  Both Madame and Hanoi House opened in East Village around the same time earlier this year, pretty much turning the Vietnamese scene in East Village upside down.  Both heavily reviewed by local media, sometimes even together.  Early consensus indicated Hanoi to be the slightly more serious contender of the two, so I set my sight on the hot looking Madame on St Marks.  We had a little fling.  A little fun with the Bun Cha if you will, and the always dependable Beerlao (which both have).  But it felt like I wanted more… Trout!  There’s this great looking whole trout on the Hanoi menu, setting the anticipation for round #2.

But it never arrived.  Well, not yet at least.  The culprit?  A Jewish theater!  You see I always wanted to see a movie in Village East Cinema, a converted movie theater that was once a Jewish theater.  One of the remains from the old Yiddish Rialto days when some two dozen Yiddish theaters spread along 2nd ave.  I visited the theater over 100 times during my East Village tours but havent actually watched a movie there.  And while the two Vietnamese hotties are not exactly miles apart, Madame Vo’s location made more sense this time.  Besides, I was intrigued.

Madame Vo feels a bit more Madamish and less East Villagy than Hanoi House.  In fact next to Vo, Hanoi feels like Trashy Debby.  I am however attracted to both kinds.  But especially to the one with the chutzpah to put a beautiful mural of herself (presumably, but looks very similar) in the front.  Who does that?  Imagine Ivan Orkin mural in front of Ivan Ramen.

Madame Vo Ginger Chicken

And as for the menu, just like with any Nevada bunny ranch this is the kind of lineup that makes you want to order more than you can handle.  After three visits so far, I feel the emphasis should be on the mains.  Its a spring roll heavy lineup early on that is uninspiring when compared to the rest of the menu.  And that is broken into noodles and rice, where the latter may just mean that it comes with it.

Chao Gio – Spring rolls as satisfactory as spring rolls can get.  These were stuffed with shrimp, crab and pork, with the shrimp taking the lead role

Banh Xeo – This is the one dish I didnt quite get.  Crepes filled with bean sprouts, shrimp, pork belly and more bean sprouts.  Some of the pork was more edible than others, and the dish overall required a heavy dose of the table condiments (Hoisin, Sriracha).  I was instructed to make lettuce tacos with these as I often do in Vietnamese places but the flavors were just not there

Garlic Noodles.  This dish has a few things going for it including the robust garlicky flavors, and the easy to remember English name.

Bo Lu Lac –  No english here, but this dish does speak the universal language of delicious. Rib eye cubes with fried egg come sizzling and oh so perfectly spiced and juiced.  This one is a must.Madma Vo steak

Ga Kho Gung – This is another big winner here.  Delicious white chicken meat cubes infused with Ginger arriving in a clay pot that keeps the heat and juices intact.  Loved picking those scallions off that thing

Goi Cuon – “Summer rolls with shrimp, vermicelli, lettuce and mint” according to the menu.  “Lettuce rolls” according to Ziggy.  Thats all I tasted

Mama Ly’s Fried Rice – A good if not standard fried rice.  A bit on the sweet side for my taste.  Table Sriracha to the rescue again.

Its odd that this reviewer did not try the signature Pho during his three visits, but during the summer heat he starts sweating just by being in the same room as one.  But all accounts indicate that this is a very proper rendition.  Another big plus, worthy of rounding up to two stars (from 1.75) is the fact that Vo’s dinner items are available for lunch as well, in addition to the lunch specials.

Madame Vo
212 E 10th St, East Village
Rating: Two Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Garlic Noodles, Bo lu Lac, Ga Kho Gung

Categories: East Village, New York City | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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