An Early Look at OBao in Midtown: Michael Huynh's Gazillionth Restaurant
Vietnamese chicken salad with cabbage slaw and peanuts
Michael Huynh has always had a knack for flavor: His dishes tend to show an appetizing and skillful balance between hot, salty, sweet, and bitter, and he's good at deploying light, zesty flavorings with ultra-rich meats. Although some might say that his Vietnamese food is fancied-up and dumbed-down for a non-Vietnamese audience, you can usually bet that the dishes coming out of his kitchens will be awfully tasty.
But now that the restaurateur seems to open a new place every month, maybe it's inevitable that the wheels start coming off the Huynh-mobile. At OBao (222 East 53rd Street), the cracks are starting to show--particularly in the form of a "Singapore laksa" that does not remotely deserve the name. Other dishes are better, particularly stuff that you've seen him do before: A chicken salad perked up with lots of herbs, fish sauce, and lime juice is sprightly and refreshing. Radish cakes stand in for noodles in char kway teow to deliciously chewy effect. (When in doubt at a Huynh restaurant, order anything involving radish cakes.)
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The broth in this "laksa" seems to be almost nothing but lukewarm coconut milk. The pork belly is overcooked and tough, and instead of the traditional springy egg noodles, there are mushy soba noodles. Scrape in the whole bowl of sambal offered on the side, and it's almost edible.
For a rich appetizer, spare ribs are wrapped on sugar cane skewers and grilled.
Radish cakes stand in for noodles in char kway teow, a wok-fried noodle dish with shrimp, egg, scallion, and pork. It's greasy, chewy, and very tasty.
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