Spring Rolls Are Exemplary
by: Ron Bechtol
For many of us, Crab 7 Ways, which opened on Broadway in the post-
Vietnam War era, was our first introduction to the food of the formerly
French-influenced nation. With the indomitable Snow Eisenhower as hostess,
it quickly became iconic and then lapsed into an uncomfortable middle
Subsequent owners did nothing to burnish the restaurant’s reputation.
But the grande dame of Vietnamese cuisine is back at the helm (though not
present on my visit), the place has been freshened up, and, if prices have
risen and selection has diminished, there’s nevertheless reason to revisit.
Snow’s (excuse the familiarity, but I knew you when) spring rolls
were always exemplary — meaty, crisp and well seasoned. And, served
with slabs of iceberg, cilantro and (perhaps unnecessary) rice, they remain
a mark for others to hit. Be sure to make liberal use of the classic dipping
sauce when you wrap the rolls in the lettuce. For nostalgic reasons, and to
recall just one of those 7 ways, I also ordered the crab and asparagus soup.
Yes, it would be better with fresh asparagus, but it is still oddly comforting
and responds well to a drizzle of chili oil from the daunting-looking container
full of chili flakes on the table.
At lunch, steaming bowls of pho regularly appeared from the
kitchen; I intend to go back to try at least one. But as the traditional mung
bean pancake known as banh xeo (and pronounced bun sel) is far less
common on local menus, it seemed the obvious choice. Two very large
pancakes folded over a filling of pork, bean sprouts and the occasional
shrimp will be your lot if you follow suit. Feel free to tackle the pancake
pair with knife and fork, as eating it the traditional way, again tucked into
lettuce with branches of cilantro, is a bit of a struggle for Vietnam newbies.
But I say go for it, chopsticks and all — that’s what napkins are for.
There’s no getting around the awkward parking situation at Snow’s;
it has been ever thus and seems now only to be exaggerated — and to have
led to a kind of uneasy truce with the neighboring restaurant. But once inside,
serenity prevails. My service was unflappable and friendly. And if the
wines and liquors on display are, for the moment, only that, perhaps an appropriate
license will one day appear. The grilled pork, recommended by
the charming hostess, might go very well with a chilled rosé; the spicy
chicken salad with an icy riesling. For now, stick with fragrant tea and