A messenger dropped off some take-out menus at work, advertising a Vietnamese place I didn't know. So when Vince came to meet me for lunch we headed off south to Orchard Street in the freezing cold and found An choi.
The narrow space starts off with a booth where the banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches, on crispy white rolls) are made, complete with toaster oven to warm the rolls. The kitchen is in the back of the house. I loved the spare table settings of coffee cans for chopsticks and Sriracha hot sauce.
Three things on the take out menu had attracted me. Pho (soup), banh mi and beer. The two banh mi joints I frequent (Nicky's on East 1st and Saigon on Broome) are really holes in the wall, and you order and leave with your lunch, which doesn't include beer or pho, to which I was introduced by my Vietnamese friend Mimi, whose mother made it for us...delicious. But I had never found it close to the work hood.
Salad rolls on the menu made me digress, and I swear the ones I ordered said CRISPY pig skin on the menu. Online it says shredded pig skin. Might explain few things. Crispy they were not. Think elastic bands in a bland rice roll with bland herbs. Really. It was a very disappointing start after such a promising beginning. No flavour whatsoever. Nada. It's bad when you're desperately dipping your roll into the sauce for proof of life.
So. Strike one. Even Vince didn't finish it and he finishes everything I leave. Hoover.
I had ordered the special: a soup with crab in a tomato-based broth, digressing again from the traditional pho. It was good, though not astoundingly so. Delicate, the crab pureed rather than in flaky pieces. Good on a cold day. Unfortunately so much of what I eat in this vein is compared to Momofuku Noodle Bar, whose broth rocks. But Noodle Bar's er, noodles, cost $16 and this one was $10, so there's that.
Vince had banh mi, with pork and basil meatballs and the usual quick pickles and cilantro. It was as yummy as banh mi can be. Again, at $8, there's the odious comparison: Saigon's banh mi are $3.50. Nicky's are $5. And both are very good, in different ways. But here you're sitting down, in a space which has higher rent, presumably, looking at a pretty wall, being waited on. Which means tip, of course. So it's really a $9.50 banh mi. I don't think it cuts it.
What was delicious was coffee. Dripped onto condensed milk, stirred.
I'll go back for the pho proper, and because the place felt good, and for the coffee. But I won't be ordering the salad rolls.