Cinco de Mayo? How about Vietnamese food? Hey, at least there wasn't a crowd. My craving for garlic noodles brought us to Mangosteen, which was surprisingly uncrowded at 7 p.m. on a Friday night. It stayed pretty empty all evening. I'm not often in the neighborhood, but the few times I've passed by at lunch I remember it being crowded. Maybe Cinco de Mayo drew everyone to the Mexican restaurants.
Lychee black tea: adorable presentation, no? The tea itself was black tea with a light, sweet fruit note. Refreshing, and the server was so sweet about bringing us enough cups for the whole table. To make their own lives easier, however, they should have purchased larger teapots.
Chicken garlic noodles: I was so sad that these noodles were overcooked. I had the beef noodles last time. And while the noodles are certainly supposed to be softer than Italian pasta, the noodles this time were much too soft. The sauce, like before, was intensely flavorful. Both garlic and fresh peppers were immediately apparent. I think I'll stick to beef; the chicken (small slices pounded flat) was a little dry, and I remember the beef noodles being in a slightly darker sauce.
Beef: I think it was chunked skirt steak, but could just be chuck cooked a long time. Whatever meat it was, it was very tender. I remember the garlic noodles coming in beef sauce like this, actually. This was so good with rice. Onions, garlic, a little hint of spiciness, parsley. Not the most unusual or inspred dish, but tasty.
Now come the real winners...prawn in tamarind sauce. Oh, that sauce! Sweet, tangy, oniony, starchy, and--most importantly--buttery. They must have robbed a dairy farm to find so much butter. We couldn't stop talking about that sauce, and I consumed an entire bowl of rice just eating spoonfuls of it. We joked that just a bowl of sauce and some rice would be a cheap out of this world meal. You'll notice I didn't think to take a photo until there was only one ugly prawn left. The tiger prawns they used were huge (like the ones often found at Costco), and the dish comes with four prawns. Not cheap...maybe they put the sauce on something else? I would love it on catfish.
Sea Bass: I saved the best for last. This was hands down the fovorite dish at the table. The sauce was the most interesting, unique, and tasty in a dinner filled with nothing but great sauces. This sauce was more complex than the tamarind sauce, but we identified rice wine, vinegar, sugar, garlic, onion, chili, and I think a little soy and fish sauce. It was similar to some sweeter Chinese sauces, but not. Truly amazing. The bass was flakey and sweet, though after it got cold someone mentioned it took on the texture of frozen fish.
More garlic noodles. This is a "side" dish. They were also overcooked, but the sauce was so good we got over it. It's hard to see how big this bowl is, but suffice it to say this bowl of noodles can not be held with one hand. $3! If you were being cheap, one dish that's intensely saucy plus one bowl (more like tureen) of noodles for sopping up all the sauce would be a $10 and under meal fit for a food snob.
Not to be completely disrespectful of Mexican Independence Day, we headed to Rye bar/lounge after dinner. Cocktails, as usual, were fantastic. Rye is easily the best place for a cocktail that I know of in the city. Every drink is $9, they're very generously sized. It's hard to find a cocktail under $10 here that you can actually sip for an hour.
The cocktails are fruity and fun, but not laden with sweeteners or artificial flavores. And they're exactly right on the amount of alcohol: the zing's there, but it doesn't just taste like hard liquor. Instead, they use fresh fruit; the bar is a veritable salad bar of tangerines, kumquats, berries, cucumbers, lemons, and more. They only use ripe juicy fruit, and it really shows in their drinks. The bartenders I've had at Rye have been knowledgeable and deft, and the staff is friendly as well as professional. No amateurs here! And there's a decent wine list as well. From the left:
Apple Bomb: my favorite drink. It's made with applejack brandy, ginger beer, and good apple juice. They don't use TreeTop here, thank goodness. It's deceptively mild tasting because the applejack tastes practically like juice, but it does pack a punch. It tastes like drinking watered down apple juice with bubbles, but hits you later.
Blackberry Bramble: muddled blackberries, lemon juice, and vodka. Straightforward, but the key at Rye is their use of fresh fruit. My only quibble about my drink was that the blackberries weren't really muddled, and the drink didn't come together until I had fully squashed the berries with my straw. I don't mind interactive dining, just give me a spoon!
Stormy night: I'm forgetting something, but it was vodka + ginger beer and not much else. It tastes like it sounds: light, very slightly sweet, but overall good.
Rye Manhattan: I don't even like manhattans and I have to give Rye props for this one. The rye whiskey works very well here, and the drink could not be a more beautiful, rich, sultry color. It's the color drink I would put in the hand of a silver screen siren if I were shooting a movie poster.
Mangosteen (Larkin and Ellis) Cash Only
Rye (Geary and Leavenworth)