143 Grand Street off Lafayette
about $45 for two, with tip
Update, 2008: Michael Bao has left Bun
I can only imagine how hard it is to work as a waiter/waitress in a city teeming with restaurants, but for everybody’s sanity, find another job if you can’t even put up with a simple request from one of your customers. I eat out a lot and I’d like to think that I know what I want when I’m ready to eat. There are things I expect when I pay for my food and one of them is some kind of service from the restaurant’s staff. Now, I’m not talking about waiting on me hand and foot; I just want the menu as soon as I sit down, the food I’ve ordered after a reasonable wait, and my bill, preferably with the correct total, after you’ve cleared the last plate from my table. I could even understand if you don’t know an ingredient off the menu (the cute waiter at E.U. during its opening week who told us periwinkles are cured meat) or if you’ve forgotten today’s specials (the waitress who touted the lamb shoulder as chops), as long as you don’t act like an asshole afterwards and try to make me the bad person because of your mistake.
We went to Bun, Michael Bao’s new restaurant on Grand Street, to show our support for a new Asian restaurant opening in the midst of multi-million glass condo buildings coming up in SoHo. It wasn’t a particularly busy lunch hour and we were able to score the table near the door as soon as we walked in. My friend and I were the only Asian-looking customers inside. We couldn’t but help notice the lacquered red stools at the bar and the canvas Asian prints on the wall. The prices on the menu are obviously set to pay for the restaurant’s decor: $6 for a summer roll, $9 for a bowl of pho, $12 for a hot pot.
To start, my friend ordered one salmon roll served with anchovy sauce. The sauce reminded me of the Filipino bagoong from the north. The roll is simply a Vietnamese summer roll, only with salmon was used instead of shrimps. Berkshire pork is touted several times on the menu, so I opted for the vermicelli noodles, the restaurant’s namesake, with a few slices of them tossed with shrimps. We both ordered the pho for our main course, even though we knew our lunch tab was already running up to $40 without drinks.
The chicken pho was bland and we were surprised that it was peppered with pieces of chicken skin, complete with the small goose bumps. It’s just like eating at home, said my Chinese friend, but we wondered how the non-Asians in the restaurant felt upon seeing them in their soup. They do not taste bad, of course, but I know people who would be put off with boiled chicken skin in their dish, if not for the looks of it, the jiggly fat underneath. My bun was the day’s saving grace. I can’t make sure that the pork was indeed Berkshire pork since it’s not as distinctively sweet as a Niman Ranch pork, but the sweet and sour sauce had just the right Vietnamese flavor. At Xe Lua in Chinatown, I always order the beef bun when I’m not craving their pho.
It was only after the bun came that I realized I’ve ordered too much food. I got our waiter’s attention to ask him to cancel my beef pho. The order was already put in, but I’ve made a mistake, and I know it wouldn’t be too hard to accommodate my request. Instead of going back to the kitchen, our waiter tried to convince me that I should take the pho to go. He only stopped insisting when I told him that I’m not going to eat reheated pho back in the office.
When our bill came, the $9 for my canceled pho was still there. I tried to get our waiter’s attention again, but he kept looking away whenever he saw me looking. Fed up of waiting, I walked up to the bar, assumed the only guy behind it without chef’s white was the manager, and asked him to please take off the $9 off my bill because I’ve canceled that order earlier. When I returned to our table with the correct bill and we were getting ready to leave a tip, our waiter finally made an appearance and told us, I don’t have control over the computer to change your order or the bill. I nicely reminded him that I, too, don’t have that access and that was why I expected him to do his job.
We still left a 20% tip because we didn’t want the other waiters at Bun to think their own efforts are not appreciated. But I hope the restaurant owners realize that only one ugly feather can make an entire plume look bad.
Xe Lua is a much better deal for Vietnamese without the attitude
I would even opt for Fr.Og if I had to spend money on Vietnamese food
Perfected combination of noodles, Berkshire pork and poached egg at Momofuku Noodle Bar