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Vietnamese restaurant shake-up on Jerome Ave

plum Apr 11, 2009 05:29 PM

We tried to stop by the World of Taste Seafood on Jerome Ave in the Bronx for lunch today, but were surprised to see it had a new yellow awning labelled "Pho Mien Tay". That was not the only change, though: David Nguyen and the two older Vietnamese ladies were gone. We were crushed.

The only one still there was a Liberian lady named Mary, who said she'd owned the restaurant for the past two years, and that David had been working for her.

When we sat down for lunch, we noticed a new Vietnamese restaurant under construction across the street. Mary confirmed that David is opening his own restaurant across the street.

I wish I could say the food was still as good without David there, especially since Mary is such a nice lady and it looks like the place is really hurting for business. But it just wasn't. Half of the menu was out of action, including pho and weekend specials like the crab soup, and the half that remains was hardly recognisable.

Mary said she intends to keep the existing menu, but hopes to add West African food to the menu - a mix of Senagalese and Liberian dishes. When we said we didn't know a single Liberian restaurant in New York, she tempted us with descriptions of jollof and fufu and goat soup.

We checked the new place out after lunch. A hand-written whiteboard out front listed David's signature bun bo Hue. No menus yet, no idea when it will open.

We couldn't figure out what the restaurant name was, but the blue and white awning says, "Com tam Ninh-Kieu" and "Pho cali". So we have high hopes that David's amazing bun rieu will be back on Jerome Avenue soon.

Some background on World of Taste, nee Phung Hung:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/27/dining/27brief.html
http://www.porkchop-express.com/2007/...

  1. bigjeff May 14, 2010 10:38 AM

    snap! "Pho Saigon #1 on Jerome Avenue: Closed!"

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/706751

    1. bigjeff Mar 6, 2010 08:00 PM

      Yes! what a great day; had two meals back-to-back, Pho Saigon 1 (which replaced whatever replaced World of Taste; this is the existing place on the east side of Jerome Avenue) and Com Tam Ninih Kieu (the new place across the street, which replaced another place I think that replaced the asian grocery store that was there). They really are right across the street from each other and we ate at Pho Saigon 1 first, finished half our food and got the rest to go, and then sneaked across the street to Com Tam Ninh Kieu (we felt bad about ditching but, wanted to do a head to head). Unfortunately, it wasn't a true head-to-head for certain reasons which I'll get into but, just want to say that our bill was identical at both restaurants, $14 for two dishes (each $7).

      kdgchow; we saw the same thing at both places: mostly vietnamese customers at Com Tam, and mostly non-vietnamese at Pho Saigon 1. And Lau, indeed funny to order "opposite" from the names of the places. But, I think both places simply excel at their specials; more on that later.

      I'm going to attach appropriate photos to each reply off of this thread, so as to separate.

      13 Replies
      1. re: bigjeff
        bigjeff Mar 6, 2010 08:11 PM

        PHO SAIGON 1 (READ THIS FIRST)

        We went here because we'd enjoyed multiple meals at this particular address and figured to start there. The place looked more or less the same but with red tablecloths and glass on the tables; it was slightly cleaned up but still the same grungy-ish spot: signs for fried fish and fries and other slightly ghetto offerings but we found out that the wife (of the husband and wife team that runs the joint) was out of town! so the big sign of specials was taken down from the front window and the front counter and we were left only with choices straight from the actual menu; that cancelled out ordering anything from the red sign that Joe MacBu had eaten or taken a sideways picture of the menu for, including the pork-cooked-in-style-of-dog and whatever else was available. Seeing as we heard the place was good for broken rice (that funny logic again), we wanted to order a rice plate but all of a sudden felt the urge for beef so I got a cam-bo-luc-lac (sp?) which I figured would feature the same rice, but not the typical combo plate; beef cubes instead. we also ordered a pho with flank and round, asking for tendon, but we were served a typical big bowl dac biet, which is ok. Our plan was to eat at both places, so we tried to exercise restraint and got through half the food.

        The rice didn't look or taste broken, but was certainly tasty and greasy, like a filipino garlic rice but more subtle. the beef was great (of course) and with plenty of condiments on the table (including the funky grey shrimp paste plus a tasty ground fermented shrimp sauce (similar to chinese sa-cha sauce) it was quite good; very simple but good. The plating was significantly less fancy than from your shots, Joe.

        the pho was pretty good; very light flavor but simple and clear; the noodles almost al-dente and generous; the meat cuts were indeed funky; big generous pieces, not thin at all; the flank was almost like big pieces of roast pork, ramen-style, and the flank was served in almost 1/4" slices (weird!) but really rare; we yanked it out of the pho to stop it from cooking and you can see the blood leeching onto the rice of the bo-luc-lac. it was all good and tasty; not transcendent but, in its simplicity, beating anything we usually have down in chinatown (new tu do the current winner, not an extremely high threshold unfortunately). Our vegetable garnish was pathetic though; four pieces of culantro and a lemon; no basil, no mint, no nothing else. weird. The owner was a very nice guy, apologizing that his wife was not around to cook the specials so he couldn't prepare any of it for fear of screwing it up. but indeed, it sounds like the specials that Joe had above were very good. The place definitely seemed understaffed or incomplete in some way, even though there were still plenty of people manning the open kitchen.

        All banh mi are $3.50 and they looked really really big. But, I didn't try them.

        Tip? Don't go to Pho Saigon unless the big flourescent orange/red sign of handwritten specials is hanging; Joe your dishes looked so amazing! and different from what we got served today. I asked specifically for duck, and that was on the not-available specials.

        In terms of photos, I forgot to take them at the beginning of the meal so forgive the grossness. You can see the smear of grey shrimp paste on the rice plate, as well as the pink of the raw flank that we got from the pho. And from the shot of the pho, you can see the crazy big piece of flank.

         
         
        1. re: bigjeff
          bigjeff Mar 6, 2010 08:14 PM

          oops! posted same photos again. ignore these photos please; they are of the same sub-review above, of Pho Saigon 1.

           
           
          1. re: bigjeff
            bigjeff Mar 6, 2010 08:36 PM

            COM TAM NINH KIEU (READ THIS SECOND)

            So this is the new place that replaced the grocery; nice big space, big dark wooden furniture and much livelier with some regulars/friends parked in the corner playing cards. lot of army hats and camo going on for some reason. nice guy behind the counter who almost looked like the guy who was originally at World of Taste, but I couldn't remember. (and besides, it had switched in between then anyway; there is definitely some general clarification needed because, I think, this place even replaced another place that replaced the grocery store anyway!). onto the food:

            we were going to order pho here but we asked on the specials and there were 5 on a small flourescent sign out front (incidently, next to a bunch of printouts from chowhound and some blogs): 3 noodle soups, Bun Bo Hue and two others, plus some other funky garlicky one that our server told us not to get (it would probably be really good) but then, he broke down two specials which both featured vit . . . . yes . . . . DUCK! so we had to get that.

            We got Mi Vit Tiem which is duck and shiitake soup with yellow noodles (first photo) and we got Chao Vit which is Duck Congee (last 3 pictures). Both were amazing. The duck soup was like the old World of Taste one: generous pieces of roast duck leg, shiitakes, yellow noodles (the flattish fettucini-ish egg noodle kind, not the round spaghetti-like kind) served with the ginger slurry to either dunk or dump. It was good and delicious but now that I think about it, the old old one from World of Taste was more . . . soulful. Maybe a little funkier, maybe just a little bit better because that sweet old vietnamese grandma who used to make it was so sweet! But ya, it was a very good noodle soup regardless.

            The duck with congee was awesome: huge bowl of congee, well garnished, a plate of you-tiao, and plain duck (different than in the noodles) served over a delicious small mini-salad, plus a ginger dipping sauce (different from the one for the duck soup). It was so nice; the duck was plain flavored but tasted ducky; the congee was great, and all together with the various condiments (and good pepper) made for a very tasty combo. I wasn't sure if you were supposed to simply dump everything into the congee bowl; we just kept it all separate or at least just dipping and dunking. It was extremely enjoyable. The pictures, in this case, speak louder than my words (sorry it's late!) but trust me, this was an extremely extremely good meal.

            Everyone else was getting various bun dishes (those looked good) or enormous bowls of pho which also looked amazing. But, we were simply distracted by the duck so we went double-duck. Next time, I'd want to try a pho, as well as the other funky-smelly special (our server's words). The summer rolls going out to other tables looked huge and very good too; and the pho vegetation also looked good.

            I'd love to try the pho, the com tam, and even the bun at this place, as well as some of the other specials, including the bun bo hue and the two others noodle soups (it might have been bun rieu but I don't recall). Banh Mi was not on the menu but I did see the telltale big toaster oven so, maybe that will be an option next time as well.

            Joe, are you also S.G. on Yelp by any chance? just checkin'!

             
             
             
             
            1. re: bigjeff
              Joe MacBu Mar 8, 2010 07:12 PM

              Great job, maestro.

              And yeah, you just blew my cover.

            2. re: bigjeff
              bigjeff Mar 6, 2010 08:54 PM

              IN CONCLUSION (READ THIS LAST)

              I realize now that because many people have been cross-reviewing both restaurants in this same thread, it is getting confusing to track who offers what. But no matter what, I think both places really deserve deep exploration on their menus. Pho Saigon 1 is definitely the underdog because it just looks grubbier; the owner (longish hair under a baseball cap) was a great guy, giving pounds and fistbumps to everyone coming in and apologizing profusely for not being able to cook his wife's specialties but that picture joe took looked like it had almost a dozen specials on it! And that pork noodle dish you had a picture of looks so amazing. Again, I think you gotta go to Pho Saigon only when you can see that tell-tale list of specials hanging in the front window; otherwise, go across the street to Com Tam.

              And for Com Tam, we didn't even touch their regular menu but from the other reviews (and what we saw), it sounds lilke there are some gems. Since there were only 7 items on their specials, I think it would be pretty easy to eventually try all of them. The two duck ones that we had today did not disappoint; they basically had two different rice congee specials (our duck being one of them), three different noodle soup specials, our duck noodle soup that was not grouped with the other 3 buns, and one more (the funky one). I want to try them all!

              No matter what, plenty of choices offered between the two so they can back each other up, depending on your mood. But, I had to declare a winner today, it goes to Com Tam Ninh Kieu. A little unfair because Pho Saigon 1 wasn't playing with a full team but hey, what can I say?

              1. re: bigjeff
                b
                budcar Mar 7, 2010 03:30 AM

                I last visited Jerome Ave ' World of Taste which has become Pho Saigon . My favorites in Vietnamese food are the seafood pho and the summer rolls served with peanut sauce. Which one should I visit? Thanks

                1. re: budcar
                  bigjeff Mar 8, 2010 06:53 AM

                  Com Tam Ninh Kieu seems to be the more complete restaurant; my gut says the summer rolls are better there, but the seafood pho might be very good at Pho Saigon. However, I'm not sure if there would be a different seafood pho available as a special at Pho Saigon, and my impression is that the specials are the strongest part of what Pho Saigon 1 has to offer. If you make it up there and the specials poster (about a dozen written in sharpie on a big flourescent red/pink sign in the front window) is not up, I would just go to Com Tam across the street; I didn't have the pho but, apparently the pho is good.

                  with all that said, I'm usually disappointed with seafood pho because it ends up usually with frozen seafood mix and maybe some fresh shrimp or squid; never had one with serious serious seafood and there is usually an errant fake crab leg. One alternative is the crab soups that might be offered; maybe someone else can provide the vietnamese names/writing for those other special soups? In fact I remember having a crab soup at the old World of Taste and it was very good and pungent, but, it is no seafood pho.

                  1. re: bigjeff
                    plum Mar 8, 2010 07:11 AM

                    The amazing crab soup at World of Taste was bún riêu cá. It's very different to pho - it has a slightly sour broth with a "raft" of ground up crabs and egg at the top. I've been missing it a long time now, so if you find it at either place please report back!

                    1. re: plum
                      DaveCook Mar 8, 2010 08:31 PM

                      If not in the Bronx, you can find a good one in Brooklyn:

                      http://www.eatingintranslation.com/20...

                      1. re: DaveCook
                        bigjeff Mar 8, 2010 10:15 PM

                        dave, I gotta say, I think I ate there based on your review; trying the pho, that crab soup and also the rice cake squares and wasn't impressed. I usually love those weird rice square things with the mung bean on top but it was just so flavorless and the textures very strange. it was good with a lot of sauces but otherwise, plain. the crab soup was plenty sour but I've no desire to eat it again; wasn't crazy savory and even tasted kinda watery (I think). I'd love to get a good sampling of that soup from other places; give up the pho hunt and identify the good viet noodle soups out there.

                        1. re: bigjeff
                          DaveCook Mar 13, 2010 07:14 AM

                          I emailed the organizer of a local Vietnamese cultural group about that soup; he replied that "Xe Lua makes really good bun rieu on the weekends." BigJeff, did you try it again after this visit:

                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5018...

                          1. re: DaveCook
                            bigjeff Mar 13, 2010 11:27 AM

                            never went back; maybe it didn't quite captivate me and i remember that it was looking very good, but ultimately, underwhelming. maybe I just have an expectation of some serious pungency and sea-funk, and neither Xe Lua or Thanh Da I did it for me. I think I'd much rather find a good bun rieu than a bun bo hue; I really like the malay equivalent of that kind of soup too, asam laksa, so even though it is different cuisines/countries, I'd want something just as funky, just as rich and delicious. best one I've had so far was probably at Laut.

                            1. re: bigjeff
                              p
                              Peter Cherches Apr 2, 2010 08:34 AM

                              Some places make bun rieu cua on weekends only, but I believe New Tu Do does it every day, and theirs is pretty good.

                              http://petercherches.blogspot.com

            3. DaveCook Jan 20, 2010 08:04 PM

              The restaurant on the premises once occupied by World of Taste is now Pho Saigon No. 1, as of January 2010:

              http://www.eatingintranslation.com/2010/01/pho-saigon-no-1.html

              Across the street, Ninh Kieu is indeed open...

              http://www.flickr.com/photos/eatingin...

              ...though the takeout menu in my hand doesn't mention bo bun Hue or bun rieu. But I haven't eaten here, and there may be much more on offer: My menu is English-only, and when I walked in, most of the fellows huddled around the largest round table seemed to be Vietnamese.

              15 Replies
              1. re: DaveCook
                Joe MacBu Jan 31, 2010 06:18 PM

                Com Tam Ninh Kieu specializes in broken rice (com tam) and pho. No indication of bo bun hue nor bun rieu. The com tam is a decent rendition.

                What really hooked me was the pho - not the best I've had, but certainly the best I've had in NY. The main draw is the broth: beefy, complex and appropriately spiced. The noodles could stand to be chewier and the treatment of the meats tends to be a bit unorthodox (but I did enjoy the tendon). They honored my request for cooked sprouts as well as extra fat with blanched scallions on the side.

                Stopped by Pho Saigon to take a look. Very friendly owner. The takeout menu offered was actually for Pho Vung Tau. The owner explained that they're in transition and using his friend's menu or something. I will say that pho is not their specialty (I was given a sample of the broth upon request - it was one-dimensional, tasting mostly of cloves). He indicated that I should focus on the handwritten menu hanging from the counter (see attached photo - I apologize for making you tilt your head). Listed are bun bo hue and bun rieu. I'll return to sample the thit heo gia cay: pork cooked in the style of dog.

                 
                1. re: Joe MacBu
                  bigjeff Jan 31, 2010 07:08 PM

                  thanks for the recon joe; I'd love an excuse to head up there again!

                  1. re: Joe MacBu
                    l
                    Lau Feb 1, 2010 06:07 AM

                    interesting, i love com tam if its good

                    how long does it take to get to this place from the city?

                    1. re: Lau
                      Joe MacBu Feb 1, 2010 06:18 PM

                      I haven't had much com tam in this town, so I don't know how it compares. My LA Vietnamese friend deemed it mostly acceptable. She enjoyed the shredded pork skin and remarked on the generous amount of toasted rice powder. The grilled pork chop didn't have any lemongrass but still tasted good; the egg/pork cake was dry and stale. The shrimp cake was good and the rice itself was solid.

                      It's probably a little over an hour from LES - 40 minutes on the 4 train itself.

                      -----
                      Com Tam Ninh Kieu
                      2641 Jerome Ave, Bronx, NY 10468

                       
                       
                      1. re: Joe MacBu
                        d
                        deabot Feb 1, 2010 06:26 PM

                        nice pics! the pho looks very good..

                        1. re: Joe MacBu
                          bigjeff Feb 2, 2010 06:24 AM

                          classy plating!

                      2. re: Joe MacBu
                        Joe MacBu Feb 6, 2010 04:45 PM

                        I revisited Pho Saigon today for a proper meal. Despite my advice, my friend ordered the pho, which was lackluster. I can't really blame her since she'd been craving a bowl (and I wasn't chivalrous enough to go to Com Tam Ninh Kieu instead). Please don't make the mistake of ordering the pho here.

                        I had much better luck with the 'thit heo gia cay.' The dominant aroma is that of fermented shrimp paste with some gamy undertones. The consistency is between a soup and a stew. It has a rich body and complex flavor with a little bit of funk that might overwhelm the uninitiated. It was lacking a bit of heat and brightness, which I remedied by adding vinegared chilies and some chili paste. Chunks and slices of shiitake mushrooms and roasted pork belly, complete with the skin, are scattered throughout. The meat is cooked to firm but not tough, the fat isn't silky and melting as one might expect, and the skin alternates between crisp and chewy. I really enjoyed it. I was given a choice of broad flat noodles, bread or the noodles in the photo that I obviously chose (or rather, let the owner choose for me). Served alongside is a plate of steamed cabbage and Chinese kale to balance things out.

                        As we were leaving, the owner suggested that I try the bun mam next time, but that I should be careful because the girls would avoid me afterward (it's supposed to be made with superfermented fish and really ups the funk ante). Well, I would hope that any gal I take to this place would indulge in the bun mam as well. Sounds like a perfect Valentine's Day+Vietnamese New Year lunch on the 14th.

                        I think Big Jeff should take one for the team and try one of their duck soups (the owner was quite ecstatic about them). I'm keeping my eye on the bun mam, mi vit tiem and chao long.

                        -----
                        Pho Saigon No. 1
                        2614 Jerome Ave, Bronx, NY 10468

                         
                         
                        1. re: Joe MacBu
                          bigjeff Mar 2, 2010 04:16 AM

                          headed there this weekend! and . . . . wouldn't you know it:
                          http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/27/nyr...

                          1. re: bigjeff
                            Joe MacBu Mar 2, 2010 07:41 PM

                            Lo and behold.

                            I think it's great that they're getting some press. Hopefully it'll generate enough business to keep them both alive.

                            But really, I don't think it's a rivalry. The strength of the two places are on completely different realms. You go to Com Tam for the pho. You go to Pho Saigon for all the other complex soups. It's not a rumble in the Bronx.

                            BigJeff, I want photos.

                            1. re: Joe MacBu
                              bigjeff Mar 2, 2010 09:42 PM

                              they certainly love a story, don't they? yes, looking forward to doing a hop back and forth across the ave this weekend.

                              1. re: Joe MacBu
                                l
                                Lau Mar 3, 2010 03:13 AM

                                kind of funny that you go to a place called com tam for pho and the place called pho for soups besides pho

                              2. re: bigjeff
                                k
                                kdgchow Mar 5, 2010 12:05 PM

                                Decided to drive down from Westchester and hit both places this afternoon.

                                Had a bowl of pho with steak and flank ($6.50) at Com Tam - pretty good. The broth was beefy, with hints of clove and star anise. The steak and flank weren't that flavorful, but the noodles were appropriately chewy.

                                Didn't have enough room for another soup or com tam, so I just grabbed a banh mi ($3.50) from Pho Saigon No. 1. Not bad, but could be spicier - I think they left off the chili peppers.

                                One interesting thing I noticed, I was the only non-Vietnamese person eating at Com Tam, but there weren't any Vietnamese folks eating at Pho Saigon.

                                1. re: kdgchow
                                  bigjeff Mar 5, 2010 01:05 PM

                                  mmmmm, chewy noodles . . . that sounds great! tomorrow's menu will be based on this thread . . . . can't wait!

                                  1. re: kdgchow
                                    d
                                    deabot Mar 11, 2010 04:28 PM

                                    i went tonight to Com Tam and ordered a bowl of the pho with steak or pho tai. i was a little disappointed the broth was not as fragrant or aromatic as i was hoping it to be just a good beefy flavor that's it. the beef was also sliced quite thick, something i would have overlooked more easily if the broth was better. i hope that it was an off day more than anything else. noodles were good, springy and chewy and the herb plate was very generous with the culantro, basil, sprouts and lime. I also ordered goi cuon/summer rolls which were made to order, the wrapper being very fresh.

                                    will go back another time to try the duck soups or to revisit their pho.

                                    1. re: deabot
                                      k
                                      kdgchow Mar 12, 2010 07:08 PM

                                      Made another Friday trip and hit both places again.

                                      Started with the bun bo hue ($6.50) at Com Tam. The broth was excellent: beefy and spicy, perfect for a rainy, windy day. In the bowl you had a few pieces of either pig knuckle or pig feet (pretty good, but I ate around the fat), beef slices with thin ribbons of fat (tasty) and cubes of congealed blood (didn't care for them, but I'm not a huge fan of blood-based foods). The noodles were OK, but didn't have the chewiness of the noodles in their pho.

                                      Saw some folks eating some rice dishes with cut up spring and shrimp rolls which looked tasty.

                                      At Pho Saigon No. 1, I just got the lunch special of grilled pork over rice ($5.50). Actually, the pork was more stir-fried than grilled, but it was still tasty.

                                      I'd like to eventually try the com tam at Com Tam. Any other non-soup dishes at either place worth trying? I'd like to keep branching out.

                          2. c
                            CeeBee Jan 4, 2010 05:19 AM

                            Does anyone know if David's restaurant (across the street) is still open? I'm not exactly sure where to look...

                            1. bigjeff Apr 13, 2009 09:54 AM

                              thanks for the update.

                              what it really comes down to is: I will follow that duck soup to the end!

                              1. m
                                MahatmaKanejeeves Apr 12, 2009 07:28 AM

                                I had duck soup and spring rolls there a few weeks ago. A man worked the cash register and a woman cooked. I was skeptical that there was sufficient demand to support 2 Vietnamese restaurants. Morphing this restaurant to West African may not be so bad. It seems to change names regularly anyway.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: MahatmaKanejeeves
                                  lambretta76 Apr 12, 2009 11:30 AM

                                  I'm actually excited about the prospect of a Liberian restaurant in the city. While I'm sure it will be similar to other West African cuisines, I'm sure it'll have some special dishes that have been to this point unavailable in the city.

                                2. Cheese Boy Apr 11, 2009 09:56 PM

                                  Plum, fsval also reported the same rather disturbing news in this thread ...
                                  Take a look --> http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4041...

                                  Look on the bright side, MORE dining *options* on Jerome Avenue is a good thing and more importantly, I hope that both businesses can survive in this struggling economy.

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