If you’re looking for a traditional bowl of pho or fried spring rolls at Van Da, a new Vietnamese restaurant in the East Village, then you’ve come to the wrong place. Van Da doesn’t like to state the obvious, it prefers to showcase the overlooked, and when it does take on a staple, it’s with a modern spin.
There’s a good article on Taste that talks about how a lot of the Vietnamese food in the States reflects static trends from the Southern regions in the 70s, and things have rarely progressed since then. Until now. There’s been a renaissance in Vietnamese cooking, especially in New York City, with the opening of places like Hanoi House, Bunker, Madame Vo, and so on. Van Da specifically explores food from outside the common regions of Hanoi and Saigon, and there’s a section devoted to the city of Hue, whose regional dishes were completely new to me.
One novelty I tried was the banh beo, a rice cake marinated in a pickled juice and served in a ceramic bowl. There was definitely a funk to the sauce, similar to the flavors of Korean water kimchee. It might be a little much for the Western palate, and it certainly caught me by surprise, but I haven’t forgotten it since.
There is a bit of a wink wink nod to pho, which arrives in dumpling soup form. Honestly, I wouldn’t say that I preferred this to the more traditional noodle soup. And I also don’t think it’s quite successful as a dumpling either. It was, however, clean and focused in its preparation.
That sentiment persisted for the remainder of the meal. Nothing else was as arresting and captivating as the banh beo. The dishes were tasty for sure, such as the fried red curry corn fritters, the garlic fried rice and the crispy brussel sprouts, but none of them left me thinking they were quite the “best” in their categories. And I don’t even remember having had the branzino.
But I still want to come back and revisit the Hue portion of the menu. It was rewarding exploring the more unfamiliar terrain of this lesser known city, and I’m curious to see if the rest of the dishes will be as provocative and memorable as that banh beo. We all know the road less traveled by makes all the difference, and the same can be said of a meal at Van Da.
234 E 4th St (between Ave A and B)
New York, NY 10009