Dong Xuan Quan (Berlin): A Vietnamese Pho Fix

It only took about a week into my visit to Germany but suddenly, there it was: My massive craving for a bowl of hot noodle soup.

Good thing I was in Berlin — I’d been told before getting here that there’s good Vietnamese food to be had in this city. Vietnamese immigrants, after all, have been a fixture in Berlin since as early as the 1950s, when East Germany began extending invitations to North Vietnamese to come over for training programs.

Where to go? All signs pointed to a spot in East Berlin’s Lichtenberg neighborhood named Dong Xuan Center …

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L’Amant: A French-Colonial Homage

The perfect boƮte can be an elusive thing.

For me, it has to have several components — a seductive yet comfortable setting, cocktails that are as delicious as they are inventive, and a menu that goes far beyond basic nuts and cheeses, filled instead with snacky dishes that actually excite.

Recently, I found a new little place in New York‘s West Village that checks all those boxes: L’Amant, a French-Vietnamese bistro that opened early September …

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Minh Hoa Restaurant & Cajun Seafood: Vietnam in the Heartland

It’s always a treat to find good Asian food where you don’t quite expect it.

Recently, that unexpected place for me was Wichita, Kansas, where yes, I’d thought I’d find terrific steaks but Vietnamese? Never crossed my mind.

Now, no matter where I’ve been, be it little Strasburg, Virginia, or Boring, Oregon (yes, there is such a town and yes, I have been there), I expect to find decent Chinese food. (I’ve learned that any place in the U.S. tends to have a Chinese family hard at work somewhere churning out OK versions of General Tso’s chicken and kung pao beef.)

Any other kinds of Asian food, however, is a different matter. So I was pleasantly surprised to come across a restaurant in Wichita that served up not just Vietnamese — but good and less usual Vietnamese dishes.

You can read my full report on Minh Hoa Restaurant & Cajun Seafood in this weekend’s New York Times Travel section. But if you want to see more visuals, carry on reading here…

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Hanco’s (Brooklyn Heights): Finally, Pho

As you may have read on this blog, I live in something of a gastronomic wasteland.

Don’t get me wrong — I adore Brooklyn Heights and its picturesque streets and 19th century brownstones. What it does not possess, however, is more than two really good places to have a meal.

So when a new sign went up on the neighborhood’s main street recently, we all began watching the storefront’s papered-up windows with great anticipation. On Sunday, the paper finally came off and Hanco’s, a little Vietnamese sandwich and pho shop was in business. Would it present a third viable option for good food? We immediately got in a very long line to find out …

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Top 10: The Memorable Eats Of 2009


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You know it’s been a good year when you are able to say this: 2009 was when I began to eat for a living.

I’d always been a devotee of affairs of the stomach. I may have written about fashion and other lifestyle areas for a living but baking, braising, trying new recipes, eating out — those were what consumed me when weekends rolled around. 

Luck has its ways of finding you, however. Now, on the precipice of 2010, I’m beginning to close out a lunar calendar year of cooking and eating with my family in Singapore as research for my book, “A Tiger In The Kitchen.” 

My journey so far has taken me many places – France, where I had the loveliest gingery champagne cocktail with friends old and dear; China, where my father and I went in search of my great-grandfather’s footprints in the village of his birth. And, of course, Singapore, where my aunties and maternal grandmother have been plying me with meals, recipes and much, much love along the way.

With all that I’ve packed into 2009, it’s hard to decide what the highlights have been. But, inspired by some stellar Top 10 gastronomic lists out there (definitely check out Sam Sifton’s list of Top 11 dishes in New York in the New York Times), I decided to give it a go.

Here, in no particular order, are my 10 memorable eats of 2009. 

Enjoy, buon appetito and listen, let’s do this again in 2010 …

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Obao: Panned Asian


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New York is filled with so many “pan-Asian” restaurants that it can be difficult to get excited about yet another one setting up shop.

Vietnamese pork chops? Been there. Summer rolls? So, so done that.

And Obao, Michael Huynh’s newest addition to his rapidly expanding string of Manhattan restaurants, hits these and all the other usual notes that you’ll find at many other similarly billed places in the city.

What’s different? Not much, compared with your run-of-the-mill multi-ethnic Asian restaurant.

There are some hits — anything meaty and/or grilled. And, of course, some misses, namely a “spicy” Singapore laksa (pictured above) that’s so watered down that its broth tastes like hot water with some curry powder tossed in toward the end.

But here’s the thing: Even at Obao’s recession-friendly prices (which put entrees between $9 and $18), for those who enjoy a hearty bowl of noodle soup or a crisp papaya salad now and then, there are just so many other places in the city to go for better versions.

So, why eat here?

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Pho Grand: Almost The Stuff Of Food-Porn Dreams


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The longest relationship I had in the six years I lived in Washington, D.C., involved a man with whom I exchanged just a few dozen words.

Once a week, without fail, I would show up at Pho 75 in Arlington, Virginia, where at the front of the line, I would tell my man how big a table I needed, he would gesture toward a spot and that would be it. (Sometimes, he took orders, which might elicit the occasional “You want Number 15 — large or small?” Exciting stuff, I tell you.)

I went back to Pho 75 every week not because of the guy, of course, but rather the beef noodle soup that they serve, which is consistently the stuff that my most mouthwatering, heart-pounding, bordering-on-porn dreams are made of.

The noodles are always perfectly cooked; the beef lovely and tender. But the broth, oh, that broth. (And the stirrings I feel whenever I think of it.) Made from simmering oxtails, cinnamon, star anise, onions and fennel seeds for hours, that soup is so succulent and hearty it could be a meal all on its own.

In the six years since I left D.C. for New York, I’ve been on a mission to find something comparable — to no avail. Sometimes it was the noodles or the beef that failed to measure up but all too often, the problem lay with the soups — they were bland, too sweet or not sweet enough.

After six years of pho-hopping in New York City, however, I’m happy to report that I’ve finally found a version that’s not bad.

Pho Grand in Manhattan’s Chinatown — it’s almost worth cheating on my D.C. man for. 

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