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Jun 4, 2007 12:31 PM

Sunset Park Expeditions Part 2 - Gia Lam

After last week's visit to Nha Trang Palace (
)we decided to keep the Vietnamese theme going by visiting Gia Lam. The decor is plain but pleasant enough. There is wood paneling on the walls and my girlfriend and I wondered if the Vietnamese have a word for "knotty pine." Mind you, it was *nice* knotty pine - it had been stained a medium brown and was pleasant enough but it just reminded me of someone's finished basement.

The place was about 70% full when we arrived at around 9:00PM and while there was a steady stream of new customers throughout our meal gradually the crowd thinned down. We people in the outer boroughs like to eat early. The crowd was 60% Asian and 40% Westerners for those of you who use the Authenticity Meter. Gia Lam is BYO. We brought wine and noticed that a couple of other tables had brought beer.

In many ways the meal was similar to our previous meal at Nha Trang but no less satisfying for being so. By the numbers -

#10 Pho - rice noodle soup with fresh eye of round. Once again the broth had a wonderfully complex flavor. This time around it was served with generous slices of roast beef at the bottom of the bowl. The slices were a bit large and I thought this might make for some awkward eating but they were so tender that it was all very manageable. An outstanding dish.

#20 - Grilled beef with sesame seasoning on rice thread. This was actually a reasonably close match to the grilled beef we had ordered last week at Nha Trang. While the Nha Trang version had a slight pleasant char this didn't but the nicely balanced seasonings more than made up for the absence. Gia Lam's version was sliced thinner, almost like thinly sliced grilled roast beef. As a result it was noticeably more tender. Excellent.

#48 - Grilled pork chop, shredded pork, and egg patty on rice. The "pork chop" was actually 2 thin pork cutlets, nicely seasoned. My girlfriend liked this more than I did although I thought it was fine. Just not as distinctive as I would have liked. Worth a try.

#127 - stir fried chicken with straw mushrooms. I don't know about you but I'm a sucker for straw mushrooms - they always remind me of Fantasia. This was a pleasant dish and while I liked it fine, you could classify it as the chicken equivalent of the pork dish my girlfriend ordered. Well made but no surprises. Then again, nothing in the menu description made me expect anything more so I wasn't disappointed. I just wanted those straw mushrooms.

This time around we were smarter and limited ourselves to 4 dishes. The portion sizes are reasonable and we had plenty to eat. $29 plus tip for some very good cooking. This is a stunning bargain in a city where mediocre meals routinely run to $100-$130.

For those who didn't read my earlier post about Nha Trang, be aware that Vietnamese food is well seasoned but not particularly spicy. Each table at Gia Lam was equipped with both Sriracha and an unlabeled bottle of pepper sauce. I tried the second on some of the grilled beef and thought it added a nice kick without being punishingly hot.

We liked Gia Lam a bit more than Nha Trang although you couldn't go wrong at either place. We'll definitely be back.

Gia Lam
4819 8th Ave. at 48th St.

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  1. ok now if you were crazy, you'd eat at each Gia Lam on 8th ave, and do a serious survey. I think the first time I went to that neighborhood, my family ate at one of the Gia Lam's but on my last trip there, there were at least 4 different ones, which in some ways, makes me suspect just because of the chain-ness of the place, and in such close proximity as well. but I do remember it was a great meal.

    not sure if this is addressed in the previous post, but is Nha Trang related to the Baxter St. and Center St. places in manhattan's chinatown?

    3 Replies
    1. re: bigjeff

      I think that you're mistaken about 4 different Gia Lams. When I did my walking tour last month I passed Gia Lam and Gia Lam II between 42nd and 60th St. on 8th Avenue. #3 and #4 weren't to be seen. Google can't find them either -

      Both GLs share the same menu. I picked #1 purely because the interior seemed a little nicer.

      1. re: Bob Martinez

        There are only two, as far as I know.

        1. re: Peter Cuce

          maybe I kept seeing them because we doubled back from greenwood cemetery all the way to that overpass on the highway near the turkish places; we walked end to end on a day with a street fair (actually mixed well with the sidewalk vendors from the restaurants) but I really could swear I saw at least 4; could most definitely be wrong of course, seeing that we were full from noontime red hook soccer and the eating of our way through brooklyn. I guess I need to have another go at it sometime soon.

    2. I go to the Gia Lam in the upper 40s all the time. I agree on #10. They have excellent cha gio, and I also like the hot & sour fish soup. The pho is OK, but nothing special. The chicken or squid with lemongrass & chili over rice can be good, but it's very oily. I wasn't too pleased with Nha Trang the one time I tried it. I didn't get the impression they were connected to the ones in Manhattan--menu was somewhat different.

      2 Replies
        1. re: Peter Cherches

          hey y'all sorry to bud in - I know yr talking Sunset Park, but since you're mostly going on about Vietnamese I had to throw in. Our favorite, in Brooklyn at least, is Pho Hoai. We're there twice a month at least. The pho is phantastic! Did I mention phabulous? Crispy squid, hacked crabs rich and oily in ginger/scallion, grilled pork on rice stick are all crazy good. I dig the Com Dia of pork chop and crabby patty! And the pho is rich and aromatic and comes in many varieties with many meats and meat things. I especially dig the navel, omosa, tendon. They and others add so much fat, flavor and texture. I haven't toured the city's other Vietnamese places in many years, besides Bahn Mi joints, so I can't compare pho at this point. We just know we're happy with our Avenue U standy. Any time other than 8pm is a breeze and even that's fine. Friday night's are especially easy to get around and park since the local population is a good deal observant Jewish (not me, I apologize to my ancestor's ghosts!).