D.O.B. 111, Michael “Bao” Huynh’s newest restaurant was discombobulated last night, even more so that you would expect for a three-week-old spot. A large table of fratty dudes occupied most of the space, doing more drinking than eating, and pontificating loudly on subjects like how to get laid. (“Get a pitcher of margaritas…”)
Meanwhile, Huynh himself took our order, something you wouldn’t expect him to have time to do, since he has about a hundred restaurants now, and more on the way. The only other waiter was friendly but lacked certain social graces: “Those are not my favorite,” he confided, wrinkling his nose at our lamb brain raviolis.
But what’s interesting about French-Southeast Asian D.O.B. 111 is not its failings, but its occasional (and I do mean occasional) flashes of brilliance. After a deeply mediocre meal at O Bao, Huynh’s last big opening, it was a surprise and a pleasure to recognize, again, Huynh’s knack for balancing salty, spicy, tart, sweet, and bitter flavors, creating dishes that reference Southeast Asia but are not tied to tradition, and might be odd or exuberant. When his food pops, it really pops.
The lamb brain ravioli appetizer ($11), for instance, sounded like it could have been a train wreck–the pasta in a sauce made from lobster coral (roe) with bits of prawn. But the disparate elements came together in a kind of meditation on funk from earth and sea: the briny funk of the roe sauce, the musky, creamy funk of the brains.
Beet and mushroom salad ($8) in a spicy sesame vinaigrette is just fine. It’s also the only vegetarian dish on the menu.
A salad of grilled wild shrimp with mint, star fruit, and preserved lime dressing ($9) is adequate, and would have been a refreshing starter, but the peanuts had gone rancid.
Here’s another minor triumph: scallops with cauliflower-almond purée, green curry, and bits of bacon. The tart and spicy green curry keeps it from being too rich.
Main dishes, right this way.
Glazed black cod with heart of palm purée and preserved lime relish ($18) is scanty for the price, although the fish is cooked nicely, with a lacquered crust and luscious interior.
Oxtail stew ($16) benefits from a wonderfully rich, star-anise-scented broth, and big hunks of the tender meat. Horseradish gnocchi make it interesting.
Pork belly with taro mash and caramel sauce ($17) is a serious misfire–the slices of belly are pure fat, tough and mostly inedible.
For a vegetarian friend, Huynh came up with this sauté of horseradish gnocchi and vegetables. He ended up comping the dish–perhaps because he pitied us for sitting next to the table full of drunken jocks.
115 St. Mark’s Place