Saigon falls

Every once in a while, you stumble upon a restaurant that you really like but critics ignore and no one else knows about. A few weeks ago I was led to a small, almost unseen vietnamese restaurant nestled in Tribeca between much more famous neighbours. We could see Bouley from our window, and Nobu, Megu, Chanterelle and a dozen critical raves were staring over our shoulder, but our quiet little place held its own. Not unlike Vietnam itself, one might say. Hoi An, named after a once-famous port town in Vietnam (ok I googled that) is small, unpretentious, inexpensive and strangely enough staffed by small cheerful Japanese women. There is no easy way to discover Hoi An. I was taken there by a friend, and that's probably the only way to go; on your own you'll almost always get distracted by one of the much better reviewed neighbours that abound in Tribeca. That would be a mistake, though - the food there was some of the best Vietnamese I've had in recent times. We ordered the starter combination, an artfully presented set of four starters that you get to choose - of which the only false step was the strange and slimy salt squid. Entrees; I went for pork and boiled egg in caramel sauce while my friend ordered grilled seasoned beef in rice paper (no I'm not even going to try those x-laden vietnamese names). The pork was wonderful, soft and melting; the caramel thankfully described the color rather than the taste of the sauce. And the rice paper - this was my first experience with that rather fun thing, made even better by the wonderful grilled beef. And it was inexpensive. Hoi An is definitely a hidden gem.

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