Michael Huynh continued on the war path this month, claiming new territory in Midtown with his new pan-Asian noodle shop OBao. Like his banh mi shops, the place is affordable, accessible, and a hit with the lunch crowds. Many of the early bloggers have chimed in with raves on the pork belly, the short ribs, the pad see lew. However the more experienced, and/or more jaded, of the bunch have complained of a lack of authenticity, a dumbing down of the rich and spicy Vietnamese flavor, especially regarding one dish, the bun bo hue. Tweaks can be made, but all in Huynh doesn't have much to worry about here.
The Ambivalent News: A Tiger in the Kitchen thinks OBao is fine but nothing special: "New York is filled with so many "pan-Asian" restaurants that it can be difficult to get excited about yet another one setting up shop...There are some hits -- anything meaty and/or grilled. And, of course, some misses, namely a "spicy" Singapore laksa (pictured above) that's so watered down that its broth tastes like hot water with some curry powder tossed in toward the end. But here's the thing: Even at Obao's recession-friendly prices (which put entrees between $9 and $18), for those who enjoy a hearty bowl of noodle soup or a crisp papaya salad now and then, there are just so many other places in the city to go for better versions." [ATITK]
The Good News: The Skinny Pig, however, is impressed: "the pork belly was fantastic. If you think you wouldn't like it, it's basically large cubes of bacon (bacon is usually made from pork belly) covered in a caramelized glaze. Sound better now?? The crunchy, sugary skin on the outside with the savory meat and fat on the inside...it was umami heaven...My Pad See Iew was pretty much everything I was hoping for: lots of noodles, bitter greens, short ribs and fried egg. I don't need to say more, but I will. It was great - everything was cooked perfectly, and they don't skimp on the portions here." [The Skinny Pig]
The Terrible News: Peter Cherches is not amused by OBao's attempt at a bun bo hue: "When OBAO's bun bo Hue arrived at my table I thought they had brought me the wrong item. It had sliced raw beef ("tai," or eye round steak) and the broth looked just like pho, with only a few dots of orange oil clinging to the side of the bowl, which took close inspection to find. In addition to the beef there were slices of pork leg meat (though the menu promised "pig feet"), and it did include the proper kind of noodle (rather than the flat pho rice noodle), but the broth was pure pho...It was evident that what they were passing off as bun bo Hue was just their pho bo slightly altered at the last minute. Nine dollars' worth of pure mediocrity." [Word of Mouth]
The Meh News: Midtown Lunch's Zach Brooks has some mediocre dishes but in the end decides it's worth going back to: "Bun (Vietnamese vermicelli noodle bowls) is actually my favorite dish to order at a Vietnamese restaurant...It’s not the best version of the dish I’ve ever had, and it should really include a spring roll, but all in all I was pleased... I don’t know what “authentic” Singapore noodles are supposed to taste like, but even taking this dish at face value it was just ok. Not bad, just not great...we went with the Viet Rice. It was good, but also not spectacular..." [ML]
The It's Not So Bad with Tweaking News: Per a Midtown Lunch commenter, "It seems like they are toning down the basic offerings for what they assume is an audience that wants less authentic food. I went Saturday and had the Singapore Laksa and the Pad See Iew. The Pad See Iew was fantastic (loved the kalbi flavored beef), but my first taste of the Laksa was very disappointing. However, once I added the chili paste they provided, it really was much, much better. Makes me question 1) why not put it in in the first place and 2) what else have they left out? The pork belly and pad see iew more than made up for any temporary disappointment at the Lakso though. [ML Comments]
The Pretty Good News: A Yelper is determined to eat her way through the whole menu, and most of it is pretty good: "onto the pho. it was decent, but this was where the distinction between midtown and c-town became very apparent. there's no tendon, there's no tripe. the broth isnt as fragrant. BUT the noodles are cooked well, and the ingredients are fresh and clean. just like street meat and its 'secret ingredient', i think there might be something to the 'cleanliness' of c-town restaurants that adds to their pho's wonderful flavor. i will order it again, however. i have faith that this will improve. plus, i hear mumblings of an oxtail pho? yes, please." [Yelp]