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cong ly.

17 Aug 2011



So I don’t know what took me so long to try Cong Ly, the Vietnamese place on Hester near Chystie Street.  Maybe it was the deep-seated suspicion that all Vietnamese places in Manhattan would be terrible; maybe it was the fact that the last three or four meals I’d had at Vietnamese restaurants made me a little ill.  Maybe it was because, quite frankly, I’m not the biggest pho fan, and that’s what Cong Ly is known for.  So yeah, it basically took two white  guys New York Jews from the local (love you, Tony and Mitch! It’s not that I thought you were white, just uh … whiter than me?) to tell me that I’d been missing out on the best Vietnamese food on the island, before I finally made my way there this weekend.

First thing’s first:  we didn’t order the pho, which was probably not the best way to go about our first time at a pho joint.  And, of the three things J and I ordered — the bun bo hue, cha gio, and cary ga — the first two were fairly unspectacular.  This is what bun bo hue should look like.  It should be heady, unctuous, with a slick of hot oil and a deep, dark, murky brothy.  The one at Cong Ly was not bad, but if you can see from the photo above, it just wasn’t very complex; it got the job done, but in a somewhat timid way.  The cha gio — spring rolls — were bland, and the wrapping was not of the variety I’m used to (entirely different brand or flour, maybe?  unclear); more damningly, despite being crispy, the rolls were only barely golden in color, as if they hadn’t been fried enough.  It was an odd thing.  So yeah, no to the bun bo hue and the cha gio. 

But!  Cong Ly has an entire section — to be sure, only four entries deep — devoted to cary ga, or chicken curry.  And the four options in that category were simply curry over rice, vermicelli, rice noodle, or egg noodle, so it’s not like there were four different kinds of chicken curry.  But still — an entire cary ga section boded well, no?  So we ordered a bowl of it, asking for only a toasted baguette on the side; this is how I often had it growing up, back when my maternal grandmother was alive and would cook cary ga at least once a week.  It is her cary ga that I think about, often and lovingly, as the exemplar of the dish; the idea of it is what keeps me eating mediocre Vietnamese food in Chinatown, as a quickfix attempt to cure my occasional homesickness.  And while I know that everything will disappoint when you’ve got a late grandma’s dish on the brain, I keep holding out that there’s a kitchen east of the Mississippi that can at least approximate it. 

And, well, yeah.  Cong Ly fucking rocks the cary ga.  It was great — a little bit oily, with a bit of spiciness, and with a great neon orange glow.  The chicken pieces were a little skimpy on meat, but no matter — I just tore apart the baguette and dipped it into the curry with abandon.  This isn’t a coconut milk-heavy curry; though there is some of the c-milk in there, this is more about the lemongrass + curry powder + oil combination.   Wasn’t quite like being home again, but it’s the closest I’ve come in a long while. 

So while a couple of the dishes disappointed, I’ll totally be back soon, to test out the pho, and to order another bowl of the curry.  Sorry it’s taken me so long to find you, Cong Ly.   The white guys Jews totally speak the truth. 

[Oh, and the top photo?  No idea.  It’s like the Leica decided to pull a Lomo and produce an inexplicable light leak.   That, or the camera was anticipating the bowl of neon curry that was about to hit the table.]



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6 Comments leave one →
  1. 17 Aug 2011 5:59 pm

    We’re white?

    Glad you somewhat liked it!

    Now, next…RedFarm.

  2. 17 Aug 2011 7:33 pm

    Nice photos. I might’ve given it a try if I were there.

  3. 18 Aug 2011 2:14 am

    Oh man, I’ve wondered about the cary ga but would always just get pho instead. I’ll definitely have to get that next time.

    Also, is it just me or does Cong Ly seem to be the only Vietnamese place in New York that’s not run by Chinese people?

  4. 25 Aug 2011 9:33 pm

    ever been to Tu Lan in San Fran. BEST MEAL EVER.

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