Home of Manhattan’s Best Banh Mi Sandwich – Review of Sao Mai

BY ELENA MANCINI

203 First Ave.
East Village
(212) 358-8880 / Sao Mai 

East of the East Village bustle and trendiness, this family-run East Village Vietnamese restaurant serves traditional Vietnamese fare and the best Banh Mi Sandwiches on the Manhattan side of the East River.

Vegetarian Bahn Mi

Available in six varieties including pho, sliced pork, grilled chicken and vegetarian, these sandwiches make a quick, nutritious, flavor-packed meal that’s easy on the wallet (priced between $6-$7). The Bahn Mi are prepared on baguettes are consistently fresh and crusty with a soft and chewy middle. Independent of the filling you choose, the kitchen always strikes the right balance between bread and ingredients. Their vegetarian Bahn Mi is among my favorite comfort-food lunches. Prepared on two warm halves of choice baguette, they’re stuffed with toothsome strands of sauteed bok choy, straw mushrooms, seedless cucumbers, shredded carrot and abundant swaths of cilantro, the sandwiches and seasoned with lemongrass,  sriracha mayonnaise, that provides a subtle and reverberating pitch of complex heat. In sum, it’s a light, filling lunch that delivers high-flavor rewards.

Pho’ Sao Mai

Front: Summer Rolls; Far: Spring Rolls

Lest one think Sao Mi is just about Bahn Mi, flavor mavens and fans of traditional Vietnamese fare will find other  sections of its menu will prove well worth exploring. The Pho Sao Mai will not disappoint. A flavorful broth, rich in tender strips of brisket, sprouts, rice noodles and a medley of herbs will consistently hit the spot. Adding appeal to  Sao Mi’s attractions is its steal of a lunch menu, which includes the choice of an appetizer, entree and a soft drink, all for $10. Sweetening things further,  both the Bahn Mi and the Pho are included in this deal!

Ga Gary – Chicken Curry

With a wide variety of vegetarian options on its menu, Sao Mai is also a smart choice for a low-key dinner that guarantees value, quality and flavor. Pity that wait staff has not yet mastered the walk-in dinner crowd on weekends. During these times, the  friendly service  can turn into a source of frustration for those who do not suffer extended waits and uneven food delivery times lightly.

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A French-African delight

BY CAROLYN ONOFREY

abistro
154 Carlton Avenue
Fort Greene, Brooklyn

718-885-9455/Visit abistro Online

Senegalese Fried Chicken at abistro

Senegalese Fried Chicken at abistro

Perched on an unsuspecting block in Fort Greene, with an unsuspecting facade (I nearly passed right by it!) stands abistro.  An unassuming open kitchen manned by two chefs stands at the back of the tiny restaurant.  The small size of the restaurant only lends a hand to the cozy, homey feel that not only the surroundings, but the staff and food exude.

Calamari and escargot appetizer at abistro

Calamari and escargot appetizer at abistro

To start, my guest and I chose to share the calamari and escargot appetizer off the specials menu, a spicy tomato based stew of calamari and escargot served with a helping of freshly grilled rye bread.  The charred bread added a wonderfully smoky and crunchy dimension to the melt-in-your-mouth- tender escargot.  Following  our waitress’s recommendation, we also ordered the what she claimed was the most popular item on the menu: Senegalese Fried Chicken ($17 for a half order that was more than enough for one person) and the Moules Frites (mussels and fries, $16/half order). The breast of chicken was served atop a sweet rice cake and wilted vegetables and topped with a slightly salty dijonnaise sauce.  The mussels arrived in a bath of broth similar to that of our appetizer and were a pleasant and unexpected accompaniment to the lightly seasoned fresh cut fries which turned out to be the perfect thing to soak up the left over broth.

Moules Frites at abistro

Moules Frites at abistro

Abistro was a great find and I will definitely be back.  The BYOB policy adds to its charm and friendly, comfortable atmosphere.  As I have heard in the past, and now agree with whole-heartedly, this is the kind of place where you order off the specials menu.  This is a kitchen to be trusted.

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