Our goal Friday night was to walk into Babu Ji and put our names down for a table, thinking we would probably wait an hour for it. Turns out the wait was more like 2 hours. Time for a back up plan.
It was a bit of a challenge trying to find other options all the way over on Ave B. There are a ton of scrappy little bars and restaurants in the area, but we wanted a restaurant that wasn’t so Alphabet City-ish. Something like a Hearth, which also had a 2 hour wait, or a Flinders Lane, which miraculously did have availability. We wanted to try something new, so when a waiter at Babu Ji tipped us off to a new Vietnamese restaurant called Soothsayer that had just opened on Ave A, we followed his lead.
We were relieved to find a pretty space with a decent atmosphere that had plenty of seats available. I was a little thrown off by the fact that Soothsayer looked more like a stylish neighborhood wine bar than a traditional Vietnamese restaurant. Should I order something more fusion or something more traditional? There were options for both on the menu. I figured I should trust the soothsayer’s vision of a future where a banh mi “burger” and taro “tots” can comfortably coexist with traditional lemongrass grilled beef.
For the most part, I liked what I was seeing in the Soothsayer’s crystal ball. The little nuggets of starchy, fatty carbs that were the taro tots was the most exciting discovery, so much so that we ordered another. I was hoping for more from the bahn mi burger, but it didn’t taste that much different from a regular banh mi sandwich. Even though it wasn’t a revelation, it was perfectly solid, and I couldn’t complain about the juicy patty with the sweet relish on top.
The chicken wings, on the other hand, probably could have used a little editing. They were clumsily drowning in too much batter, rendering the chicken part of the wing irrelevant. I also didn’t love the fried rice, which utilized Western ingredients like duck sausage and apple in lieu of lap cheong or basic chicken. It was too salty and overseasoned, with the flavors of the sausage and the smoked chicken muddying together and weighing down the rice, which should be lightly salted with a sprinkle or two of MSG.
The fusion dishes are the way to go, as the more authentic offerings can’t quite capture the hearty, homey flavors that you’d get at a traditional place. I wanted the grilled beef to punch me with its fish sauce and lemongrass flavors, but it was more like a light jab. The stir-fried morning glory also felt a little under-dressed, seemingly made by the hands of a cautious Vietnamese grandchild than by those of an experienced Vietnamese grandmother. The soothsayer’s culinary future wasn’t totally perfect, but I’m for the most part sold on it.
171 Avenue A (between 10th and 11th St)
New York, NY 10009