Pete Wells at the New York Times dropped in on the East Village’s latest Vietnamese entry Van Da, finding food with “nuance” that could be a little more assertive, he concludes in his one-star review.
Van Da, run by Yen Ngo and chef Hannah Wong, is a three-month-old modern Vietnamese entry in a neighborhood filled with options such as Hanoi House, Madame Vo, and Madame Vo BBQ. It differentiates itself with a menu that runs the gamut of regional Vietnamese food, with dishes from the cities of Saigon, Hanoi, and Hue.
Wells highlights Wong’s snacks as a standout section of the menu, particularly the banh beo (small rice cakes) and banh it ram (fried mochi balls), and he also praises her execution of pho. He writes of the two pho options:
One gives you the soup without the noodles; floating in a rich and cloudy broth are ghostly white, billowing won tons that contain chopped beef fillet freely seasoned with black pepper. The other dish is, humbly enough, a plate of soupless pho noodles stir-fried with springy mushrooms, bitter greens and chopped scallions. Its simplicity makes the impact of the dish hard to explain until you learn that it has been showered with Maggi Seasoning, a soylike sauce that is the invisible secret of many Vietnamese dishes.
But Wells is less impressed by Wong’s take on cha ca la Vong, a fish dish with turmeric and dill. He claims that her version “supplies less dill, less sauce and less satisfaction than some others” offered in the city.
Overall, he writes that Wong has “an appreciation for nuance” although “she could stand to be less shy with chiles and herbs.” He does commend the drinks as well as the three desserts, which run out often. One star.