This week: pre-Christmas, Vietnamese food & Chocolate
I have about a week and a half left ’til school’s over. I’m happy and unhappy about that statement. If you’re wondering why I’m happy, it’s a given, no more class work, papers, and tests; unhappy it’s because I can’t go out to eat that often and the fact that finals are coming closer…my unfortunate future. But what can I do really?
Ever since Turkey Day (Thanksgiving) passed, almost every single freakin’ building in Manhattan has been decorated with Christmas lights, decorations, or even large displays of Christmas stuff out in the open. It’s impossible to forget that Christmas is coming since it’s in your face the entire time.
Also my parents listen to 106.7 FM and that radio station plays Christmas songs 24/7. I don’t think I could take it anymore! I’ve already went on a frenzy of writing Christmas cards in calligraphy and seal it with the wax. (I know, I’m very old fashioned but it’s very old-school elegant that make the receiver feel very special.) Those of you who got my card, know what I mean. Also wrapping gifts for a few friends in the Japanese technique is time consuming. But you will see what I wrapped later since I’ve given one of my friends her present.
Anyways, the weather is also anti-Christmas/winter since the entire week it’s been near or above 60 degrees Fahrenheit (about 16 degrees Celsius). I just don’t remember has it ever been this warm for so long. Not like I’m complaining, but I just hope that there will be a white Christmas. Also I can’t comprehend the fact of ice skating in this warm weather either. In Bryant Park yesterday morning around 7:30 AM, I snapped a few pics there and there was a long line waiting for them to open the rink up after the Zamboni finishes paving the ice.
Enough of my bitching about Christmas and the weather,; let’s talk about food. The first thing I ate this week was the Banh Mi from Viet-Nam Banh Mi So #1.
The place itself is a hole in the wall that is the size of a shoe box that has a small back kitchen that makes your sandwiches. There were two women that was working that morning and one of them took my order after I contemplated for 3 minutes of deciding which sandwich I want, the real deal banh mi or something that is a derivation of that sandwich. So, I stuck with the banh mi, which they call it the House Special. It cost me $3.25. Not bad for a pretty large sandwich. The banh mi bread was basically a hoagie style of bread that was lightly warmed and toasted in the oven filled with grilled pork, Vietnamese sausage, cilantro, shredded carrots, celery and some type of sweet dressing or sauce (that is the yellow in the sandwich). The sandwich was mighty fine. Normally I don’t like cilantro at all. I mean, when my parents by a bunch of these herbs for their dish, one whiff of that herb I try to avoid it like the plague! That’s how much I detest cilantro. But this sandwich actually makes me tolerate cilantro. The Vietnamese sausage reminds me the flavor of Chinese sausage (lahp cheung; the red stuff in the bitten pic). The sweetness of the pork, sausage and dressing meld nicely with the pungent cilantro and celery. The veggies gave the sandwich a nice contrast of crunch to the soft bread and meats.
Throughout the week, I’ve been buying upscale chocolates like crazy like from La Maison du Chocolat’s Cube, Pierre Marcolini and Kee’s Chocolate. I’ll write more about that for the next post (except for Kee’s, you’ll read about that later). So stay tuned for that…
Last night, Thursday, I made a dinner date with a good friend of mine from my former college, St. John’s University, after my classes (and her work day, she’s a grad from there) are over. Originally, I had in mind to stay in the Upper East Side, near her workplace but since she called me, practically the last minute when I got out from classes, she said she’s in Chinatown. So, I have to chuck my plan aside and wing it from where we are meeting. Now, usually I would eat in Chinatown during the day but since there’s no buns or dim sum out during the night, I skip it and I don’t come out at that area during the night, I hang out around midtown.
Anyways, after sprinting out from class to the subway, lugging my dad’s Canon Rebel XT and Kim’s gift that I have to carry it like it was my kids because if either is damaged, I will: 1. Die because my dad loves this camera like his child (I don’t blame him; I love this camera too!) and 2. If Kim’s gift is damaged, hell would break loose if someone bump or kick into my stuff! I’m already sleep deprived and stressed out the entire week and I don’t need another thing to worry about. But everything’s fine. My dad’s camera is in working form and in one piece (Thank God!) and Kim’s present is unscathed from the rush hour traffic at 5 PM. A sigh of relief from that.
So, we met in front of Pearl Paint. All smiles and hugs were exchanged. Kim was also doing some Christmas shopping in there. The reason why we met in Chinatown was because she was prepping for the opening of an art/photo exhibition was taking place in SoHo in the Stanley-Wise Gallery. No, it’s not her work (in a way) that is getting exhibited, it was the invitation, website and logo for the artist, Horst. The link I just provided is not her work, once she e-mails me back the stuff she did, I’ll hook it up.
Back to the food. After chatting a bit and walking at the same time, I asked her what are we eating? She told me that she knows a Vietnamese restaurant in Centre Street named Nha Trang Centre.
It’s a medium sized restaurant; not much to say about decor except that there’s a lot of Christmas lights hanging on the windows. It’s slightly better than a hole in the wall but it’s close to there. The prices in the menu are cheap about $6 – $15 for entrees. Not much people hang around here, there were about four or five parties in there. I was kind of skeptical eating there if it’s that little amount of people eating in an establishment but I can argue that it is early, about 6 PM. We ordered the spring rolls, Kim had a beef and vegetable egg noodle dish and I had the pork chop and vegetable vermicelli noodle dish and a Vietnamese coffee.
The spring rolls came out first with a salad and a small dipping bowl of red sauce that I found out that is sweet and hot. The sauce reminds me of a vinaigrette of sorts. Anyways, the spring roll was filled with vermicelli noodles, shredded carrots, and wood ear fungi. It tasted pretty good but it’s a bit greasy for me. When it’s dipped in the sauce, the flavors are a bit more complex due to the sauce’s characteristics which makes it more appetizing.
Then came the noodle dishes:
Kim’s egg noodle came out next while we’re still eating the spring rolls. Then a minute later came out my stuff. As much as I appreciate the fact that the dishes did not take forever to come out, I do not like to be rushed when I’m eating. Pacing is a huge thing for me especially trying to get some photos and note taking of these foods.
When Kim got around to eat her noodles, she first thought her vegetables were celery so, she insisted on me to take them out of her bowl and let me eat it. I look at it and I said, “Which one?” Because I don’t see any celery and I know how celery looks like. The one she pointed out was a green stalk of a vegetable and I took it and placed in my dish as well as a piece of beef she let me try. When I actually ate it, I said, “This isn’t celery. This is Chinese broccoli (known in Cantonese kai-lan). The beef was good, it’s not rubbery or any disdainful texture that I sometimes encounter have in a beef dish, but it had a red pepper flake that I just overlooked and my mouth was burning. Woowee…! That was a brief scorcher. Her noodles were in a semi-coagulated phase, probably because of the sauce? It was amusing and somewhat humorous to watch her eat the dish. She first started with chopsticks, trying to pick up the noodles by just grabbing a bunch and lift but it wasn’t successful. Her next attempt was to twirl the noodles with chopsticks like one would do with a fork but I told her “you might as well use a fork.” So she gave up and grabbed a fork and try to break up the noodles with the chopsticks too and then eat it with a fork. We need to do a lesson on chopstick basics in the future, Kim. I would assume that her dish was good but not mind blowing goodness.
When it came to my pork and vegetable vermicelli noodle dish, it looks pretty scrumptious.
It had thin slices of pork chops, bean sprouts, carrots, and other leafy vegetables that is garnished with mint on the side. To tell you honestly, it’s somewhat similar to a dish I’ve had at home that my mom occasionally makes but usually with chicken sans the mint. Anyways, this dish was pretty good. The pork chops were actually the best part of the dish. It was crunchy on the edges and the sauce or marinade on the pork was palate appealing; along on the lines of sweet and savory. Besides the pork that was good, the mint flavor made the noodles interesting. The mint kind of breathe in a fresh flavor with the onions that made the dish taste different. I can’t explain how exactly but the pork, and leafy vegetables that are kind of earthy flavors in contrast with onions, scallions, and mint gave the dish a pleasing nuance. The vermicelli was the vehicle of these flavors since it has a subtle flavor. It’s a good dish. Overall the portions of both dishes were hearty and substantial.
I eventually got around to drink my coffee after it’s been ignored for five minutes since it came out since I’m devouring my noodles. The coffee was still warm thankfully. I thought it was cold. Here’s a good description of the Vietnamese coffee from Wikipedia. This is basically a dessert coffee to me because it’s a strong and bold cup of coffee but it’s very sweet and syrupy after the coffee’s stirred in with the condensed milk. Yummy.
Originally, I wanted to go to Payard for dessert but since we’re in Chinatown and we’re going to see the exhibition (I mentioned earlier) around 7:30, it’s not going to happen. Especially, the fact that Kim’s full. Usually she eats like a bird but today she actually finished her entire bowl of noodles. Yay for Kim! But since we’re not going to have real dessert as in pastries, cakes or cookies, fortunately earlier today I ran a few errands and went to Kee’s Chocolate. Did I mention I love Kee’s? I’ve been to this chocolate shop two years ago after reading an article from NY Magazine but it’s a long, overdue revisit after remembering how freakin’ good their chocolates were!
If you want to know what flavors are in this box, click here.
I offered to Kim the Creme Brulee (Kee’s signature flavor). Kim was really skeptical about the flavor creme brulee because she told me that when she was graduating from high school and they gave creme brulee as a dessert offering to the grads, the students used the creme brulee as ammo for a food fight. As hilarious yet dismaying about the creme brulee she had, I kept persuading her to eat this beautiful chocolate.
When she finally caved in, she was surprised or somewhat shocked when I said, “You have to put the whole thing in your mouth.”
“You really have to put the whole thing in your mouth or it’ll be a mess on your clothes. Trust me on this.”
“I don’t think this could fit in my mouth.”
And in the creme brulee it goes. Once her mouth enveloped this chocolate, I told her to chew slightly so the pressure on the chocolate would crack the perfectly tempered chocolate shell to explode in the mouth, to reveal the beautiful, rich, velvety filling of vanilla. The filling is not too sweet, the vanilla flavor is pronounced yet subtle floral nuances that real vanilla always has. To sum it up, she had a chocolate-gasm. It’s a great feeling for any chocoholic or chocolate hedonist, like myself. After she had her minute, she told me that she’s “in love.” Oh, how much I love her reactions to great food (like Le Pain Quotidien’s Belgium brownie). That’s probably one of the main reasons I like to eat out with her. After she kind of coming back to Earth, she asked me how much were these chocolates, and I told her it’s $1.75 a piece. She was actually anticipating a hefty price tag for these chocolates (like $5 a piece) since I usually buy expensive chocolate and share a lot of it with friends back in my day in St. John’s. But no, it’s really $1.75 and she wanted to go there if we can but it was 6:35 and Kee’s closes at 7. Obviously, we can’t go there and to get one of these precious creme brulees is nearly impossible to get it late in the day, unless you reserve some by either calling or telling them in person.
Oh, the whole Christmas thing comes back in full circle now because after our small but great dessert course, I told her to unwrap her present. Obviously she tried to resist because:
1. It’s too pretty to unwrap
2. She wants to wait ’til Christmas
But still I coerced her to open it by the threat of death. I know I’m mean to do that but I gave her orgasmically good chocolate, man! At least she could do me the favor of opening the darn present. Also, when I gave her an email before we met, I gave her an enigmatic statement saying, “You will be gifted.” She should have thought about the fact that I’m not talking about talent, I’m talking about presents. So, here’s the great Kim and my present.
When she finally opened the present, ever so delicately. She was really happy with the stuff I gave her. It’s actually really funky, colorful drinking glasses from Anthropolgie (I love that store!). As you see below:
After trying to put everything back in the box and re-wrap the whole thing, we asked for the check. It came out about $22 with tax and tip. Not too bad for a filling dinner. The food was average and the service was not pushy. It’s an ok restaurant. We left the restaurant and we walked around SoHo, browsing through a few clothing stores, the art exhibition that Kim worked on, and Kate’s Paperie (an eye candy of a store for paper-philes like us and Eno (another friend of ours that joined in later)).Addresses:
Viet-Nam Banh Mi So #1
369 Broome Street
New York, NY
Nha Trang Centre
148 Centre Street
New York, NY
80 Thompson Street
New York, NY