What Should You Eat at Sao Mai?
This week , Counter Culture floats into Sao Mai ("Morning Star") a newish Vietnamese restaurant in the East Village, and maybe the best Vietnamese restaurant in town. Here are the dishes most recommended for the first-time visitor, renditions unique in the city for their freshness and subtlety of flavoring.
5. Papaya Salad (Goi Du Du, above) -- Shredded carrots and green papaya form the basis of this crunchy salad, with Vietnamese mint providing a extra zap to the tongue in concert with fish vinegar and mint. And yes, those raw red chiles on the periphery are pretty hot, and crushed peanuts provide extra k-k-k-krunch.
4. Banh Cuon (Steamed Rice Crepe) -- I cannot imagine a better brunch dish than these light rice crepes (most in town are made with an omelet wrapper instead; not nearly as good). The filling is mushrooms and minced pork, and fried shallots give the dish extra character.
3. Banh Mi Pho -- This sandwich handily merges two completely unrelated Vietnamese standards: the soup called pho and the sandwich known as banh mi. Whether you love it or not, you're sure to be intrigued.
2. Com Suom Nuong (Grilled Pork Chops) -- The chops are sliced thin, charcoal grilled, then glossed with a sweet sauce. Nothing better for a picnic in the garden, seen here dappled with sunlight. Comes with pickles and greenery for wrapping the meat morsels up.