Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Risking it all for Pho on Macdougal Street

Tonight Michala and I decided to risk it all and try Pho in the West Village at Saigon Shack on Macdougal Steet. The place was highly recommended to me by a Vietnamese friend well over a year ago but time marched on and somehow I never made it to Saigon Shack. I mean, good Vietnamese food on Macdougal Street? The very sentence seemed preposterous to me. Overpriced and watered down Pho? I bet they have that on Macdougal Street, but surely they couldn't be serving up anything blogworthy in that NYU infested corner of the city. I thought wrong.

The first sign that Saigon Shack was serving something out of the ordinary here was the line that spilled out onto the sidewalk. After I muscled my way up to the front and gave the surprisingly attentive waitress/hostess my name we had a short ten minute wait for our table.  The restaurant was jam-packed with NYU students, not necessarily a good sign but it did belie one important piece of data, the prices are very reasonable. Michala remarked we were out of our comfort zone here. For two white people, we seem to spend an awfully big chunk of our lives in Chinatown. It was time to find out how the other half lived.


but game!
We began our meal with summer rolls, as is our wont, and we were both impressed that they appeared to have been freshly made with crispy vegetables and fat shrimp. I noticed they didn't have any pork in them, which I am a fan of, but I mean who isn't a fan of a littl e chewy pork in a summer roll? Still, they were pretty effervescent. We began to warm slightly to the West Village...

Some snappy little summer rolls
We also ordered a salad with some sesame dressing. It was very tasty and much bigger than I thought it would be. The two of us weren't even able to finish it, which is rare. One demerit though for slightly unripe tomatoes, we both agreed the salad didn't even really need them and would have been better without it.  It is a fantastic value for $6 though and it went well with the refreshing glass of fresh cucumber juice Michala ordered.

Tasty big salad
Cucumber juice- refreshing even in winter
We were impressed despite our shitty Chinatown-or-bust attitudes. Yet we were also aware that no matter the quality of a few paltry hors d'oeuvres, there was only one dish that really mattered. The proof would be in the Pho. And then are bowls arrived and we were lost in the ecstasy of the revelation.

Gorgeous Pho!
Nice fixin's too

We both liked the way the Pho looked. And then we tried the broth. All would be lost if the broth was some watered down West Village version of the real thing. Surprisingly, this broth had a deep breadth of flavor. At first it is pleasantly reminiscent of the types of Pho that I have tasted in Vietnam, sweet and redolent of Anise, but after a few seconds it transitioned to a robust beefy flavor that called to mind a good steak. It was very pleasant indeed, and better than most of the Pho I have had in NY. I was worried about getting slimy noodles too, which often happens when a restaurant doesn't know how to precook their noodles for the proper amount of time, but the noodles were actually perfect, if not slightly overabundant.

We both expected the Tai, the raw eye-of-round steak that cooks in the hot broth, to arrive overcooked and gray, yet this beef was tender and rosy pink. We also added brisket to our Pho, and we received an almost overly generous portion. Happily for us it was some very delicious brisket, and not too fatty either. I noticed they have a spicy brisket Bun dish on the menu, I may just have to try that next time. We also saw that many tables were ordering the spring rolls, which looked extremely presentable and not too greasy.

The other good news about Saigon Shack is that it is very reasonable. Michala and I gorged on all these dishes, including a couple of non-alcoholic drinks, for $22 each, including the tip. That's around $5 more than we would have spent in Chinatown, but actually a lot less than I had expected to spend in this neighborhood. A steaming hot bowl of Pho at Saigon Shack will run you a reasonable $8, and it's worth every penny too.

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