Archive for the ‘Restaurant’ Category

Eat: The Best Vietnamese Restaurants in Chinatown with Little Italy Native Arthur DiBiasi, Part 1

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Part 1: The Introduction

Arthur DiBiasi has recently discovered Chinatown’s wealth of Vietnamese restaurants, despite living next to Chinatown his whole life as he’s a Little Italy native. “I just sized it up for a while,” says DiBiasi of the less than nondescript restaurant Pho Bang on Mott Street that he’d become curious about. “But I’d heard weird things about dogs and cats,” concedes DiBiasi, referring to the meats people are known to eat in Vietnam.

dscn8593sm1DiBiasi is a food connoisseur, he’s often at home preparing one of his famous Italian cheesecakes or giambottas (Italian roasted stew), or dining out at one of of the neighborhood restaurants. He’s pals with chefs at the best local restaurants and specialty shop owners in the area, such as Peasant and Di Palo’s, and splurges on a $100 bottle of balsamic vinegar once in a while. But surprisingly, given his daring and adventurous pallet, DiBiasi had never tried Vietnamese. “I love Chinese food,” he stresses, as he is a fixture at Congee Bowery Restaurant and very happy eating the most disturbing item off the menu, “but I just thought Vietnamese was a totally different animal.”

A recent impromptu group dinner at the subterranean Doyers Vietnamese Restaurant had him face to face with his first pho, the traditional Vietnamese soup with rice noodles. It peaked his interest, but instinctively he knew there was something better. It prompted him several days later to venture into Pho Bang, the restaurant he’d been surveilling on Mott Street.

dscn8592sm“I ordered the soup with a pork chop to play it safe,” recalls DiBiasi; he ordered take-out so he could eat it in the privacy of his own home. When he unloaded the contents, it was soup in a container, a pork chop and a snarl of fresh greens–Thai basil, bean sprouts and lemon. “I ate the soup, then the pork chop and threw out the greens, I thought it was decoration.” He knew something was not right and the following week he ordered the same meal at the same restaurant but stayed.

He stared at his soup when it arrived. In a moment of humility he called over the waiter, “I knew I was doing everything wrong, I couldn’t figure it out for the life of me.” The waiter took the knife out of DiBiasi’s hand, cut the pork chop into pieces and put it in the steaming bowl of soup, adding ripped-up basil leaves, bean sprouts and squeezed lemon juice. “I consider that the first time I ate Vietnamese and it was phenomenal.” A few days later, feeling adventurous, he ordered Spring Rolls, deep fried rolls with pork, which arrived with a plate of lettuce and mint. “The waiter, who is like a friend at this point, wrapped the lettuce and mint around the roll, dipped it in the sauce for me.”

DiBiasi has since become a Vietnamese food expert with the zeal of the recent convert. In just a few months he can walk into almost any Vietnamese restaurant in the neighborhood and he’s greeted with warm hellos from the wait staff and owners. He rips into the various piles of leafy greens, wrapping and dunking Spring and Summer rolls as if he had been born in Vietnam. “The food is clean, fresh, not as greasy as Chinese. It’s cleaner on the palette, it’s a totally different experience.”

dscn8590smArthur DiBiasi’s neck in neck winners thus far are Pho Bang Restaurant and Tu Do. Details to come in the next installment where DiBiasi will compare his favorites with Nan Son on Grand Street.

Pho Bang Restaurant
157 Mott Street (between Grand and Broome Streets)
212 966 3797

Tu Do
102 Bowery (between Hester and Grand Streets)
212 966 2666

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Eat: New Schnitzel on the Block

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If you can’t remember your last run-in with a tantalizing bratwurst, treat yourself to a meal at Café Select, the new, Swiss German neighborhood spot in Little Italy/Soho. Don’t let the trendy location and its triumvirate of über-groover owners (Oliver Stumm and Dominique Clausen, aka A Touch of Class, the Euro-dance-DJ duo, and Serge Becker of La Esquina fame) be a turn off. Although there is an undeniable element of hipness, Cafe Select has a primarily relaxed, low-key feel and it’s one of the only places in the neighborhood to linger over a coffee, a snack, or a meal and not feel rushed (in fact you might have to get up to ask the waiter for the check). Many customers are refreshingly well over the age of 25, unlike most restaurant goers in the area.

Café Select is decorated with Swiss graphic art posters, a huge, glowing Rolex clock juts from the wall and the menu is sprinkled with bratwurst, schnitzel, Büunderfleisch and Rösti, yet it steers clear of being a Zürich theme park eatery. The menu lists Continental and Swiss German options of moderately priced salads, sandwiches, meat dishes, sides and desserts, including a Toblerone parfait and Quark cake. There is an all-Alpen wine list to choose from and and homesick Zürchers can even order a Rivella or Shorley.

Café Select
212 Lafayette Street (south of Spring Street)
212-925-9322
www.cafeselectnyc.com