Co Ba: A New Vietnamese Eatery in Chelsea From a Pioneering Restaurateur

Bottom: banh duc man (steamed coconut cakes). Top: goi du du (green papaya with pork belly and shrimp).
Bottom: banh duc man (steamed coconut cakes). Top: goi du du (green papaya with pork belly and shrimp).

New York is not known for its Vietnamese food, but Steven Duong has been quietly trying to change that for years, offering vibrant, precise dishes in ever-so-slightly upscale places. The Vietnam-born restaurateur has at one time or another owned and run Cyclo, O Mai, Nam, and, most recently, Tet, which I loved and wrote about in 2008. But they've all closed, Tet soon after it opened. Gael Greene reports that Duong left New York for Saigon and Hanoi to study street food. While he was gone the banh mi craze happened, and now Duong has come back to open Co Ba, which focuses on street foods, including those ubiquitous sandwiches.

Co Ba's menu is long and enticing, composed of small snacks, banh mi, noodles, clay pot meals, and beef three ways.

Banh duc man ($6) -- steamed coconut rice cakes topped with shrimp, and a mix of ground pork, wood ear mushrooms, jicama, and fried shallots in a lime-fish sauce dressing -- is a wonderful combination of texture and flavor, the jiggly, mildly sweet cakes taking on the savory wallop of the other ingredients.

And the green papaya salad ($6) hardly resembles the run-of-the-mill tangle you get from other Vietnamese or Thai spots. This one includes bits of coconut-braised pork belly, tender and fatty, and a deep, dark soy dressing that has about a million layers of elusive flavors.

I'll go back for the beef three ways, which includes soy-sake-seared sirloin with tomato, grilled shiso-wrapped sirloin with rice noodles, and grilled sesame/five-spice flank steak.

Co Ba 110 Ninth Avenue 212-414-2700


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