(photo from Yelp)
Café Asean is a small, cash-only Vietnamese restaurant that’s been perched nonchalantly in Greenwich Village for years. When I went to NYU I never noticed it, but it was ranked highly in New York Magazine, so my dad and I went there.
It was packed. We had to wait at least 20 minutes for a seat in the trendy, dimly-lit dining room. They actually play dance music. But I could tell it was a good restaurant, because something about the atmosphere usually gives that away. Usually, the less trendy the environment, the better the food, but in this case the closeness of the space made up for the trendiness. Crappy restaurants give you more room to sit so you’ll keep ordering food just to stay there. It’s also to a crappy restaurant’s benefit if there’s a lot of space because it creates distance between hostile customers and the people who provided their subpar food.
You won’t have to wait long once you’re in, because the service is great. Café Asean serves neat, reasonably-portioned authentic dishes. I ordered Chinese broccoli steeped in wine sauce with crispy garlic flakes on it. That was three main ingredients and three dissonant flavors on one plate. It was delicious. My dad ordered the salmon dish, Cha Gio Ca, with basil/mint dipping sauce. He said the salmon and the sauce were both a 10.
For the main course I got Sayur Campur: vegetables and tofu in curry sauce. The sauce was thick and I got a generous medley of squash, green and red peppers, eggplant, green beans, cauliflower, and big tofu squares. Dad got the Bo Nuong Hua: grilled hangar steak marinated in soy and lemongrass and was equally pleased.
Not only will you enjoy your meal, but it’s political food. The Asean part of the title stands for Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a political group that promotes the cultural and economic welfare of its member nations Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Singapore.
My Rating: 9
Recommended Dish: Chinese broccoli in wine sauce
Atmosphere: Intimate, and also a bit crammed. Trendy. I don’t think it’s officially a student hangout though; I saw all kinds of people there.
Price Range: $18-$30 per person
117 W. 10th St.
(Between 6th Ave. & Greenwich Ave.)
New York, NY 10011
*Café Asean was reviewed by Eric Asimov in the New York Times.