There might be a trend. It is slight, and possibly just wishful thinking, but a second "different" Vietnamese eatery has opened up in the last year. Our small east coast town of New York City cannot quite claim to be on the level of places like Atlantic City yet, which is full of good Vietnamese, but maybe a trend is brewing? We'll see...
Little Saigon Pearl, just across the border of Bensonhurst and Bath Beach in Gravesend has small ambitions from the look of things. The awning is adorned with the family's favorite market from back home in Ho Chi Minh City called Cho Ben Thanh. On the menu it says "Go here for real Vietnamese food." No superlatives necessary, just some good advice from people who know.
Now those people in the know are cooking a small menu just off 86th Street.
You do not often see the finger food tom hoa tien on menus in New York City, the preparation probably too intense for the standard assembly line Vietnamese we find throughout our city. Little Saigon Pearl seems to have taken this as a challenge and have made it their goal to popularize the dish and make it their flagship appetizer. Sometimes translated in English as "rocket shrimp roll" or something similar, the main feature is a whole shrimp amongst other ingredients that is fried in a thin wonton wrapper.
Be warned, an order ($7.65, above) comes piping hot. The dipping sauce nuoc cham accompanies the rolls, but each bite once cool does not really necessitate the spicy sweet sauce. It was our first taste of the restaurant, and already we knew the care and ingredients coming from the kitchen were a step up from the norm.
Also wonderful was the pho tai, nam, gan, bo vien ($7.45, below, punctuation theirs), the soup listed first on the menu. While the different beefy ingredients may come in slightly short supply, the real marvel here is the soup itself, which tastes of fat covered bone. It instantly warms the soul as good pho should.
Before ordering pho, check the specials board, which always seems to include bun bo hue, another great soup option that should arrive already spicy. It also might be possible to find banh cuon here, a dish I would love to try next time along with their two banh xeo options.
The big disappointment here is the bun dishes. The bun cha gio thit nuong ($8.45, below) is inexplicably served with hot noodles instead of cold, while the spring rolls seem soggy and possibly microwaved. This dish is one of my favorite comfort foods, especially on a hot day, and can be mostly relied on even in the most standard New York City joint. Not sure if this was an off day for the dish, or if this section of the menu should be avoided.
Despite this bowl, our feelings for Little Saigon Pearl are still very positive. Is the D train in South Brooklyn becoming the city's new corridor to better Vietnamese? We've been back to Pho 18 Ave a few times since writing about it in April and still think it is great. Now another shop opens further along the line. Keep the trend going!