One of my closest friends in NYC had a birthday earlier this week, and I invited her out to lunch as a (lameass) birthday gift. It wasn’t really the most altruistic gift, though–I insisted that we go out for the ethnic food of her choice, as long as she selected one of the 164 national cuisines that I haven’t eaten yet.
My friend is really, really adventurous. She chose Thai food, which is pretty much the new Chinese food.
Thai food? Really? You get invited out by a guy who will willingly hunt down food from absolutely anywhere, and you choose something that is on everybody’s short list of regular food options?
Then again, she had a point: I gotta eat Thai food sometime, right? Not every blog entry can be exotic, so there’s some value in knocking down some of the basics. So I decided to make this Asian Holy Trinity week: Thai, Japanese, and Vietnamese, in rapid succession.
For Thai food, my friend took me to Joya in Cobble Hill, and I think that I owe her extra birthday presents for taking me there. We chomped through chicken-avocado summer rolls (painfully good, though of dubious authenticity–do you really find these in restaurants in Bangkok or Phuket?), pad thai (unadventuous, but mind-numbingly well-executed), and spicy thai noodles with chicken (pretty much orgasmic).
In the interest of space, I’ll keep my effusiveness to a minimum, but Joya is an almost incomprehensibly amazing place. It’s a casually elegant restaurant, with gorgeous bathrooms, tasteful decorations, tons of natural light, an open kitchen, and a full bar. And it’s cheap as hell, and serves some of the best Thai food I’ve eaten in the United States. Easily one of the best restaurants I’ve been to thus far in New York.
For Japanese food the next day, I was less fortunate. I randomly selected a tiny Japanese place in the East Village called Ikura Sushi. In preparation for a sushi lunch, I ate a slice of pepperoni pizza on my way there. I love sushi, but I have an obnoxious appetite (not unlike the porcine character in the upper-left corner of your screen), and I’ll inevitably leave a Japanese restaurant hungry unless I either A) order two bento boxes and eat them both, or B) have a hearty, greasy snack before going out for sushi. I went for option B this time, since it was cheaper that way.
I felt very smart for doing that. Ikura is a cute little four-table operation, and it’s entirely possible that they serve the freshest, bestest sashimi in town.
But the salmon teriyaki bento box? Pretty frightening. Eating two of them would have been excruciatingly painful.
The miso soup and California rolls were fine… but then again, they’re hard to screw up. Salmon teriyaki is also pretty hard to screw up, but Ikura managed. It came out on a steaming metal pan, which I thought was a great touch. I like sizzling sounds, so I was very excited. But then the teriyaki sauce turned into a burnt-tasting black goo (think Pennzoil) before I even had a chance to take more than a few bites, and it pretty much ruined the meal for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I ate the whole thing (oink!). Salmon teriyaki is like sex for me–unless it’s completely rancid, it’s usually pretty good–but I sure as hell wouldn’t go out of my way to return to Ikura. In a neighborhood with Japanese haunts on nearly every corner, I would think that Ikura would do better.
The next day, I completed my Asian trifecta with a trip to Boi To Go, which is always outrageously good. In all honesty, Boi To Go (along with its siblings–Boi Sandwich Shop and the
original, full-service Boi Restaurant) is the best thing that Midtown East has going for it. In a neighborhood stuffed with Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts and empty suits and mediocre corner store buffets and Subway sandwiches and lots of places that I can’t afford, Boi is a shining beacon of Vietnamese joy.
I could very happily eat Vietnamese food every day for the rest of my life, and Boi covers the basics: pho, spring rolls, and lots of bahn mi derivatives. Want curried meatballs over rice? Chicken with pate and avocado on French/Vietnamese bread? Obscenely good pork on a (disturbingly non-Vietnamese) tortilla? They’ve got you covered.
If it weren’t for Boi, I’d probably go slightly crazy on a Midtown diet of Starbucks coffee and Subway footlongs. Thank you dear Boi, for preventing me from turning into a mentally unstable, smaller-boned version of Jared.
215 Court Street, Brooklyn
Subway: Berget Street (F, G trains)
222 1st Avenue, Manhattan
Subway: 1st Ave. station (L train)
Boi To Go
800 2nd Ave., Manhattan
Subway: Grand Central station (4, 5, 6, 7, S trains)