Feeling Grand on Grand Street at Pho Grand

August 7, 2007 | By | COMMENTS

Pho Grand

I finally did it.

I’ve lived in Park Slope for 10 months now and every time I take the D train into the city I promise myself that one day, when it stops on Grand Street, I will get out and eat lunch. You’d thing that a food obsessed person like me would’ve done that all the time: Grand Street runs right through Chinatown and most of my favorite food personages–especially Calvin Trillin–feel about Chinatown the way that Joan Rivers feels about plastic surgery. It’s what makes life livable.

Wandering Chinatown, though, frightens me. I like to go with a destination, a fully memorized menu. I like to know what I’m going to get. And I suppose the reason that I’ve often avoided getting out at Grand Street is that I wouldn’t know which direction to head, which places are good, which ones will be soon closed by the Department of Health (as was the dim sum parlor I went to with Lisa and John two years ago).

Yet, last Thursday, I was feeling brave. And hungry. So I got off the train, I marched upstairs and headed down Grand Street eager to make a discovery.

And then there it was. The sign you see above. Pho Grand. There were blurbs outside–an article from The New York Times (by Amanda Hesser) and The Village Voice (by Robert Sietsema). These are authorities I admire. Sietsema’s said (I’m pretty sure it said this): “The best Vietnamese food in New York.”

I was sold. So I entered and got a perfect table in the window. I studied the menu eagerly and when the waiter approached and asked what I wanted to drink, I chose a daring drink from the drink menu: Pickled lemonade. Pickled lemonade!

“It’s salty,” warned the waiter.

“That’s ok,” I said. He walked away and then returned with this:

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It doesn’t look like much, does it? But at the bottom of the clear looking liquid was a warped looking lemon. I took a sip and it’s just one of those flavors that’s impossible to describe. To say it tasted like salty lemon wouldn’t do it justice. They key is in the fermentation: think of wine. If someone said, “Do you want to drink rotten grape juice?” you’d look at them like they were crazy. But all the complexity you get from festering grapes is true of the complexity you get from a fermenting lemon. This “pickled lemonade” is the most profoundly complex lemonade you will ever have.

As for the menu, I decided to get the sesame beef. It was recommended in one of the blurbs and it was just what I was craving. When I imagined it in my head, I pictured a glossy, glittery mass of beef like you get at Chinese take-out. I had no idea that what would come out would be as arful and glorious as the most refined dish uptown:

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How to describe this? Well I think the picture really does do it justice. It’s as if you took the most flavorful beef and then rolled it somehow into sausages (was it ground first?), coated it in a subtly sweet sauce and cooked until golden and brilliantly caramelized. The meat rests on a nest of super thin rice noodles and is topped with a beautiful nut and cilantro garnish. It’s served with lettuce leafs for wrapping, pickled vegetables (carrots and ramps!), and two sauces for dipping:

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This meal was so fantastic that I’m beating myself up for not discovering Grand Street sooner. Why did I ride past the Xanadu of foodiedom every day for a year without stopping off and stuffing myself silly? Well lucky for me I have until October 1st before my lease is up. I plan to live a grand life on Grand street for the next two months: where should I head to next?

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Categories: Chinatown, Manhattan, New York, Restaurant Reviews

  • Mr. S

    Next, try Nyonya, on Grand at Mott (or Mulberry? around there somewhere) for Malaysian food. I am obsessed with this place. The Roti is great, of course, but digging a little deeper into the menu is well worth the effort, as long as you don’t mind a lot of spice. The Nasi Lemak is amazing, the various squid dishes and whole fish are as good as you’ll find anywhere, and the Nyonya Lobak and Baby Oyster Omelet are also great. The Kang Kung Belacan is my absolute favorite thing there, but it’s really spicy, pungent and fishy, and may not be a good introduction if you haven’t had Malaysian food before.

    Super Taste, on Eldridge just below Canal (3-4 blocks from the Grand St B & D stop) is also amazing, if you want to try handpulled noodles. Ignore the charmlessness of the decor and concentrate on the soup. I recommend spicy beef, dumpling, or mutton. If you’re lucky, the noodle pulling guy will be pulling the noodles while you’re there.

    Panade, a little cream puff place on Eldridge just above Broome, is a good bet for dessert, and is also only about 2 blocks from the train.

    I could tell you a good place to get a very filling and tasty lunch for $3, but I have to keep a few places to myself… Besides, they don’t speak ANY English there at all.

  • http://www.theviewfromhere.net Harry

    You should go to Vietnam next. Meals are just as good (if not better) and less than a percent of what you paid!

  • the pauper

    There’s so many $3 dollar lunch places in Chinatown Mr. S. Throw us a bone or something.

    Nyonya is good tho, definitely give that a shot.

    Getting off at Grand, you can also walk east toward Allen St. and find Congee Village. And there’s a dollar dumpling place right around there too.

  • http://jadedskitchen.blogspot.com Jaded

    AG… if you like that, you should try Bun Bo Hue. It’s a spicy lemongrass broth with braised beef and rice noodles. Soooo good. I got so hooked on this stuff that I had it 3 times within a week. I’m not sure which restaurants around your area that have it, but do some research and be prepared for a tasty reward!

  • Erin

    I agree re: Nyonya. I’ve keep returning time and again after 8 years in new york. I highly recommend the curry mee with young tau foo — a lemongrass curry broth with noodles and seafood-stuffed peppers, as well as the sarong burong, which is a creamy, delicious fried taro bowl that cradles fresh veggies, mushrooms and nuts. For appetizers, go for the poh piah, steamed spring rolls stuffed with jicama and shrimp — very mild and slightly sweet.

  • http://chewonthatblog.com Hillary

    That sesame beef looks fantastic! Not sure if I’d have the guts to try a sip of that pickled lemonade though…so props for ordering it! What other interesting drinks did they have? Was it pricey (judging by the other restaurant’s prices it seems like it probably isn’t)?

  • Erin S.

    I have to agree with the first poster- Nyonya is great! I loved the mango chicken.

    I also wanted to add that I got an advanced copy of your book, Adam. Just started reading it and it is wonderful! I plan on pimping it out like crazy once it’s released (I work in a bookstore). Keep up the great work!

  • http://www.bigdaddyseashell.wordpress.com Gwen

    That looks fantastic. I have so many restaurant suggestions for my next trip to NYC from your posts & the comments. You are all the best!

  • http://www.handtomouthkitchen.wordpress.com B

    I would just return to this place over and over and over and over again. And I would take advantage of the cheap menu to order two or three drinks – I always order a mango smoothie AND a vietnamese coffee with condensed milk whenever I’m in a vietnamese place.

    yummmm

    B

    Hand to Mouth

  • http://michelleamurao.blogspot.com/ Michelle

    If you are ever in Toronto and you have a car or someone is driving you, ask them to take you to Scarborough to the Green Bamboo restaurant. It’s a small but authentically delicious. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best Vietnamese restaurant in all of Toronto. The top menu items include their spring rolls, soft shell crab, and their Special Beef – Rare Beef, Beef Balls, Tendon, Brisket &Tripe soup! Just make sure you’re not wearing a white shirt.

  • james

    the #1 pho used to be the finest in the city (manhattan that is), but i feel like they’ve gone down… The spring rolls are still blister-y and delicious though!