Hung Ky Chowdown (REPORT)
CH Addict, The Non-Chowhounder Known Only As P, ed, and I left Hung Ky incredibly happy and full today after lunch. Ed's heading to a weekend getaway with all the photos, so we'll all have to await his return for visual confirmation that Hung Ky is worth a lunch stop even though it's in the Tenderloin. It isn't in what I consider the worst part of the 'loin, but it was plenty pungent today because of the heat.
BAHN CUON (not on the menu): CH Addict had heard tales of this bahn cuon's tender rice flour skin, so we ordered two. I did not regret that choice at all. The bahn cuon were shaped a little like spring rolls, but the skin was thin and translucent. They were filled with a combination of mushrooms and pork and topped with a slices of Vietnamese ham (like in a bahn mi sandwich), cilantro, and dried deep fried shallots. Nuoc cham (fish sauce) was offered on the side, as were jars of extra shallots swimming in oil. Delicious. I've never had this or seen it on a menu before, but it was amazing. The skins were tender and warm, the filling very subtle, and the oniony flavor and crunchiness of the shallots were a perfect contrast. It's telling that almost every other table in the restaurant had a plate of bahn cuon despite it's not being on the menu.
PHO GA NAM NGU (special chicken rice noodle soup): this pho ga gives Turtle Tower's a run for it's money even though I was so distracted by the bahn cuon I might not be giving it enough credit. Light clear broth with tiny globes of chicken fat floating on top, tender pieces of not-too-fatty chicken with skin still attached, soft thin rice noodles without any clumping. Clumpy noodles of any kind are a peeve of mine.
BUN RIEU (crab, shrimp, tomato with vermicelli soup): the reddish broth of this soup was very interesting. It reminded me of mild cioppino, but had a spice in it that I could not identify. There were small patties in the soup formed out of what I can only assume to be tofu and crab. The vermicelli seemed more like curly egg noodles than the noodles you typically see in pho tai (beef pho noodle soup). This was fine, but it was also the dish we had the most left over of.
BUN CHA (four season grilled pork, charboiled pork slices served w/ vermicelli, lettuce, and fish sauce): GREAT pork. Smokey, charred, well-marinated meat floating in a bowl of meaty sauce and topped with carrots and daikon. We were so full CH Addict started eating the pork by itself and I was putting much less vermicelli in my wraps than usual. We were encouraged by the owner to douse our wraps with as much of the liquid as could possibly be held by a "burrito" of lettuce and vermicelli, but were too full to really comply.
Drinks were standard Vietnamese restaurant offerings, but very well done. The sip I tried of the salted lemon juice with soda was refreshing and not as salty as the one other version I've tried (that's a good thing, and I'll be more encouraged to order this in the future). The fresh coconut juice I had was very fresh and naturally sweet, with big slices of tender coconut meat. Why do people buy coconut juice in a can? Nature's already provided the perfect can in the form of a fruit!
Anyway, Hung Ky suffers from poor location. A lot of restaurants thrive in the Tenderloin, but Hung Ky is off the main Larkin Street drag of Thai and Vietnamese places. Still, it beats the pants off most Tenderloin offerings, and is much better IMO than Pho Hoa just up the street. $11 each including tip and leftovers.
ed wins the Chowhound "gentleman of the day" award. Not only did he keep our teacups full during the entire meal, he stopped by Copenhagen Bakery and picked up a slice of pink princess cake for the table to share! Despite how full we were, we managed to finish this delicious slab of heaven. I might have to conduct a mini cake crawl this weekend to confirm, but I do believe the current princess cake rankings are:
Victoria (just say no!)
Two must tries: IKEA (I'm as suprised as you are; they're frozen and from Sweden) and The Cakery.
337 Jones (between Ellis and Eddy)
The menu says open 7 days a week 9:00-7:00, but the owner confirmed that they close at 6:00 p.m. each night. Maybe if we can make a big fuss they'll stay open later; they say no one wants to be in their neighborhood at night.
Perhaps it would be best to call first, since nora went and they were closed for lunch once.
I originally wanted to try this place because I saw their menu on menupix. It looked good and you gotta love the name (visions of studly shirtless waiters sprung to mind). So I did a Chowhound search and found the lovely jen's aka The Hungry Hedonist photo and that sealed the deal. She did a great report on Hung Ky so we stuck w/ her recs and added the pork.
Banh cuon: I don't know what the correct name for the pork/pate thing is, we just called it Vietnamese baloney when I was growing up. Man, oh man! were those things good! The wrapper was so delicate. I didn't pick up a lot of onion flavor in the filling but I could taste a healthy dose of black pepper. It really makes me wonder how many other tasty treats are not on the menu just waiting to be explored...
Bun Rieu: I have never had this before so I have no idea if this is the way it is supposed to be but I didn't like it. The broth was good, kinda spicy, kinda sweet. There were dumpling-like thingies (of what I can only assume are made of crab, shrimp, and something eggy because I couldn't see any of the advertised shrimp and crab) in the soup and these I didn't like at all. Eaten by itself it had no real flavor.
Pho ga: I don't remember any chicken fat in my little bowl. The chicken was very tender (no fat on mine), absolutely perfect. Clear, subtle broth and noodles so silky that P swears they had to be fresh. Better than my mommy's (but don't tell her!).
Pork: this was so good. So juicy and tender. Even if they stopped serving banh cuon, I would return just for this. In fact, I think I will, if they are open tomorrow.
The saddest part is that they are not open for dinner, they close at six. When I asked him why, he said "Bad neighborhood!" (though he's only half a block up from the police station). ed did his darnedest to convince him that he could stay open later during the summer but to no avail. Le sigh!
And the wonderful ed truly is a gentleman by bringing princess cake for the princess cake queen. I don't usually like princess cake but this was seriously good cake! So light and not too sweet. I'm starting to see a pattern to our chowdowns: we seem to bring in outside desserts!
re: CH Addict
Not fat fat, just little glistening chicken soup floaties. You know, the globules that let you know you're having the good stuff, not Swanson's.
I can not get the bahn cuon out of my head. It reminds me of so many things: Taiwanese oyster pancakes, chang fen (flat rice noodle sheets with filling) at dim sum, ba wan meatballs, these dumplings I can only get in one city in Taiwan, and any number of gooey, slightly chewy rice flour creations. It reminded me of all these things, and yet it was so unique. I'm linking Jen's old post because it has a GREAT photo.
Thanks for finding that post. That message number was actually a duplicate -- here's a link to the same thing in the the thread that has the replies.
I tried to have lunch at Hung Ky after reading that, but found out it's closed on Mondays. Or at least that's the posted hours on the door.
re: Melanie Wong
re: CH Addict
I got through! Somewhat conflicting, but the woman on the phone said they are open every day except Monday, until 7pm.
The guy today said 6pm. So I'm assuming they just don't want you showing up to eat at 7pm, but that might not be a safe bet on slow days.
She did assure me they're open this weekend, so go crazy!
Great review! I'm glad you had a chance to try their heavenly bahn cuon.
I totally agree about not being able to call in. I remember coming back from college this break and not getting through; I was so scared they went out of business (thank goodness they didn't)! I wish they were open later, too. Then I wouldn't have to have insanely early dinners at 5:30. I think we should all band together to make them open later.
Hey Jen, thanks for letting us know about this terrific place. I wasn't in town for the chowdown, but I had lunch there on Saturday when I noticed parking in front while passing by. Coincidentally, I figured out that the table with the folks chatting about gelato et al had to be other chowhounds and got to meet Ms. nooodles and CH Addict, as well as suprising my ol' fried elise h.
I'd finished my lunch already, a lovely bowl of pho ga topped with gizzards, liver, and two unborn eggs. The eggs were yolks with just a thin film of white and had a creamy texture. The free-range chicken was very good with the perfect salting and great texture. Especially loved the firmness of the non-flabby skin.
I noticed on the picture menu description under in the glass table tops that the bun rieu has escargot in it. True?
re: Melanie Wong
It was really hard for me to tell what was in the bun rieu. Hopefully ed will be back from his trip with pictures soon, but to me it looked like a bowl of red soup (tomato?) chock full of noodles with patties on top. Other than the patties and noodles, there weren't other solids in the soup.
The patties really could have been formed out of anything. The texture was sort of like crumbled soft tofu, and most of it was tofu colored with green vegetabls specs. It could very well have had crab and escargot in it, though visually it was impossible to tell.
I really did like the soup, if only because it was like nothing I've ever tasted. I don't know if I would ever crave it. I was not a fan of the soft noodles and patties.
Another thank you from me for a great review!
Now I know what this dish is called (Banh Cuon).
Only had two versions of this so far. One at Lam's in Taraval which I thought at the time was nice (many moons ago), and the other is the banh mi shop run by people who also speak Cantonese, wee little place on Irving around 24th or so (their combo banh mi kicks ass and I guess I haven't found anything better). This Hung Hy version of BC looks even nicer...sadly a bit out of reach for me at the moment.
But I'm really curious...how does this baloney type deli meat + thin rice noodle chang fen thingy + condiments remind you of Er A Jien/Oyster Pancake, considering the ingredients and taste are so different? Is it texture? I would think Er A Jien is a little more on the gooey side as there is supposedly a little dee gwa fun in it (yam starch/powder).
The skin of the bahn cuon is quite chewy, though not as chewy as that of your typical oyster pancake. I think it's not so much that the flavors are similar. But mentally for me, they both belong in the class of things that are "delicious because of a strange chewy rice flour skin."
Hung Ky did such a nice job an the pho ga (and brought memories of my mom's cooking back to me), that I returned the next day w/ the sole mission of trying their chicken porridge, the ultimate mommy food.
Nooodles had similar cravings for the banh cuon and the lovely elise h. wanted to try it as well so the 3 of was returned for round two.
They had run out of banh cuon by 1:00 so nooodles and elise settled on the goi ga (chicken salad) and the bun cha (again because it is so good): four season grilled pork. I stuck to my porridge.
Hung Ky's porridge blows Slanted's Out the Door out of the water. Much bigger portion w/ way more chicken (and better chicken to boot). Hung Ky's doesn't come with the little fried bread (he said people don't order it enough so it was hard to keep the bread on hand) but other than that it was near perfect. It brought back so many childhood memories and made me really miss my mom.
elise and nooodle's chicken salad was *just* like my mom's w/ the sole exception that she cuts her cabbage a little thicker. This salad is the ultimate on a hot day. After you try Vietnamese chicken salad you will never go back to American. It would be like drinking DRC and going back to Wente. Pork was the same great dish as Friday.
The service was super friendly. He brought over a drink to try that wasn't on the menu and he kindly interrupted our conversation to point out a dance on their tv he thought we should see. We were spellbound and initially thought it was cg but it wasn't.
But the best part was running into melanie wong! She was having lunch at another table. She pointed out that the chicken quality was so good that it had to be free range. That woman's palate blows me away.
ok, i'm back but it's rather late and i'm too bushed to say much. or figure out this picture posting thing, so i emailed them to chaddict.
yes, yes, bahn cuon, first, last, and always. hung ky's are quite different from the place we (carblover's group) went to in sj, but also damn fine eating. hung ky's wrappers are much more elastic, sticky, translucent, and well, large. they need to be cut at least in half (no mean feat given chopsticks and the elasticity of the wrapper) to make for a polite mouthful. but gosh, these are hung's, and what a mouthful. this dish sticks in the mind as well as the molars. it's hard to describe, but it has a way of capturing the imagination of jaded north asian palettes. kind of a "what the heck is that pile of jellyfish, oh wow, what a combo, why didn't i think of that, oh, because i would have to be a minor kitchen DEITY to have composed this fugue of flavors and textures that looks like, um, a pile of jellyfish. can we do that again?" thing.
anyway, interesting that someone was looking for fresh peppercorns, cuz that is the salient note of hung ky's version of BC. it might bother those who aren't accustomed to this, but it does lend character. duece.
hung ky's toasted shallots kick ass, and the plate is littered with them. advantage HK.
but HK's fish sauce sauce seems sweeter, more dilute, and frankly spineless compared to the SJ place. duece.
HK's wrapper is the kind of problem i love. big, sticky, hard to cut, but seductive. it tries my patience in the best possible way. taiwanese 'qiu' lovers will be particularly hard pressed to resist this. i'm lookin' at you nooodles. advantage HK.
overall presentation goes clearly to HK. have you seen jen's pics? (mine will not compare). game HK.
set and match are TBD, cuz this little comparo tells me that BC might be a little like pizza. lotsa versions, most varying between satisfying and damn!
and yeah, the chicken noodle soup shows strengths in all compulsories (slippery, lively noodles, clean complete broth, and meaningfully yummy chicken strips), and finishes with a fine artistic flair. i almost want to get sick to gage the potency of this cure.
the pork really was a cut above average, and you really want to get as much of that sauce as you can.
the crab noodles were interesting more than they were satisfying. we didn't order the escargot, and i could see the potential of chewy bits, but with all the competition this dish got left behind.
finally, the only thing i regret about the princess cake was not grabbing a photo before nooodles whacked off the tip. at least yimster wasn't there so i had a fair shot at the crumbs. but what can i say. i've been passing over princess cake for years, even at copenhagen, because i thought it was FONDANT. i like marzipan, and encasing a cake, cream and all, in marzipan is solid tenure track stuff. i spent a good 2 minutes just inhaling the perfume. so i have nothing but gratitude to nooodles for that illumination, as i do to carby for the whole BC thing. long live chowhound.
Thanks to you all for exploring Hung Ky's menu and reporting back. I don't make it to the city that often, but I know exactly where I'm going to eat next time (assuming they're open!). The food here looks and sounds just wonderful!
Ed, I was looking forward to you weighing in and comparing the banh cuon w/ Quang Da's version. While it sounds like you appreciated both (and have the "banh bug" bad), you seem to lean towards the Hung Ky version. Jen's photos of the banh cuon look more similar to my mom's than Quang Da's. Very thin wrapper w/ the ground meat and dark mushrooms beckoning underneath. Perfectly kissed by a brush of oil and fried shallots.
I'm a little perplexed about the chewy factor. My mom's wrappers are extremely tender and melt in the mouth, but I always get to eat them fresh. I'm not sure if Hung Ky's version is supposed to be chewy or if it's a victim of early prep and reheating or maybe even being previously frozen. These are mere curiosities and not meant to defame their product. Sounds like you enjoyed them regardless.
Bun rieu can be great (esp. in the heat of the summer), but it doesn't have quite the same complexity and interest of pho bo or ga for me. It doesn't simmer for as long as pho and doesn't have all the bones for flavor.
Well, I hope someone posts the pics from the chowdown! If you guys have another chowdown there, please email me if you have room for another.
re: Carb Lover
I'm going to go out on a limb and say it is not frozen since they run out of banh cuon so early on most days. Also, I didn't find it chewy, just difficult to cut w/ a chopstick. But I haven't had Quang Da's version to compare it.
But doesn't ed write a mean report? Puts me to shame...
As for a "chaodown", email me and we can get something together to fit your schedule.
re: CH Addict
I think this was linked before, but for some pictures from the second day's chowdown, look below.
I didn't find the bahn cuon too chewy at all, but as stated I am a certifiable nut for chewy skins. It was certainly less chewy than a Taiwanese oyster pancake.
I've frozen and re-heated chewy skinned things before, and the bahn cuon was too tender for me to believe it had once been frozen. But we won't know til we ask (or until you make it up here to try for yoruself!)