Since not many people have mentioned this place, I figure I'll start a thread on it.
How many people have been there? We went last night for the first time. We actually tried to go on their first or second night, and were quoted a wait of over an hour, and decided to pass.
We got there around 9 and it were seated in the nearly full room. Decor is minimal; poured concrete floor (I think), etc. The noise level was fairly high though not overbearing.
We ordered the shredded chicken to share for a starter, which was excellent ($9 I think). A good portion size, and we were tempted to pick up the bowl and drink the dressing. (Well... I was. DGF being more refined was probably not so afflicted). It was addictive.
For our next course she got a soup that I think had berkshire pork, country ham and maybe some beef ($12, or similar). I don't remember exactly because I can't seem to find that exact menu item online. The broth was amazing. It reminded me of some very fine ramen broths: richly flavored, with a deep porky essence while still having a nice clean flavor. It was porky without being "intensely piggy." It was a hit.
I got the Cha Ca Catfish noodle bowl (maybe $13). Uh oh. This was the only stinker of the night. Actually, it wasn't so bad. But it was *tiny*. It came with two very small pieces of nicely fried catfish, and not NEARLY enough rice noodles. Seriously, it was maybe a half cup of cooked noodles. And not really much in the way of a dressing, though there was an undercurrent of dill, which was nice. There were some sort of sauteed greens--probably scallions and some sort of pleasantly bitter greens, possibly collards. But they were gritty. Ugh! Wash your greens better! Seriously, there's no excuse for that.
The service was casual and pleasant. No complaints.
I'm not going to engage in the bogus argument about being able to go to <whatever ethnic enclave> and get the same <whichever ethnic food> for half the price. "Why should I go to Marea for pasta with seafood when I can go to Olive Garden and get Linguine with Clams for 9.95??" See? It's a bogus argument. I believe they're doing something different than slinging exotic flavored slop. They're using high quality ingredients and they make a lot of things in house, and they buy meat and produce from reputable suppliers.
However, the bill for the three aforementioned dishes along with two pints of beer came to around $60 including tax and tip. It's not the price that I object to, necessarily. It's that those three dishes were not nearly enough. Maybe we didn't understand the ordering process, or maybe our server should have said "you may want more food."
I feel like we shouldn't leave hungry after apparently ordering a starter and two "mains" at an assertively casual restaurant.
We'll definitely go back, but we'll either wait til we're not very hungry or we'll be prepared to order maybe 4-5 dishes for two. Or possibly just not get the catfish again. In reality, that was the only elf-sized dish.
i think this is an increasingly common problem. in order to either appear more reasonable than they really are (if you think restaurateurs are devious) or to appeal to a wider range of appetites and budgets (if you think they are more benevolent) i keep seeing menus without clear demarcation of dish sizes. im not all about being told how to order/eat in a restaurant, but if you have a menu that deviates from a known-format (apps/mains, pastas/secondi, small plates etc) then that kind of guidance can be helpful.
i believe i read a similar report in a recent serious eats thread about nightingale 9. small portion sizes/it seemed designed to order many small plates, negating the inital appearance of low pricing.
maybe im just projecting, as we ate at empellon cocina for the first time recently and had a strikingly similar experience (except im a gluttonous sob so we ordered lots of the small dishes). While i dont think they (empellon) are the most egregious example of this trend, paying 1/3-1/2 the price of a typical entree for two-three bites of food is a trend im not down with.
Vietnamese is one of my comfort foods - and since New York isn't really bursting at the seams with great Viet spots I'd be willing to pay an inflated price for an authentic meal.
What were your thoughts on taste and authenticity? I read the owner (of Seersucker, as well) spent a month in Vietnam and felt he had the chops to open this restaurant. Don't want to make assumptions but, based on that alone I'd rather hold out drop my money on a restaurant with an experienced Vietnamese chef at the helm.
...but maybe I'm wrong?
I finally went for lunch. Had been wanting to try this place since it's nearby, but couldn't face the dinner crowds. The lunch menu is a little different, so maybe it's not pertinent, but here's my take:
The food is good, but the pricing is definitely way off, IMHO. (Of course, since they are crowded every night, I'm sure the owners would disagree.)
My friends had the shredded chicken salad, which I didn't order since I make that at home, but this one was very good--the dressing had some fabulous unusual flavor in it (basil seeds? cumin?) i would go back and order that again, maybe.
I had a banh mi and they brought me the wrong one, but I said I would eat it anyway. It wasn't bad (the pate was nicely funky), but honestly, it wasn't that different from one I could get further down smith st for half the price.
The worst thing was the lemonade my friend ordered. They brought her a tiny glass and it was $6. And it wasn't that good.
I get that they are trying to do something different, and they seem to be succeeding, so more power to them. But its not different enough, and portions are too small, for the price point to work for me.
I see this thread had been resurrected.
Waxyjax, I can't speak to authenticity because I've never been to Vietnam. All I can say is it was tasty and it seemed vietnamese to me. YMMV.
I reread what I wrote above, and it occurs to me that the tiny portion size of the Cha Ca Catfish could have been fixed by one little tweak. GIVE ME MORE RICE NOODLES. C'mon, they're practically free. I don't need more catfish if you think that's what's driving the pricing.
Maybe they've fixed the portion problems. My complaint was more about the disproportionately small "entree." As I recall the soup was a normal-sized portion.
We haven't been back, but only because we moved just far enough away that it's an inconvenient location now.