Vietnamese may not be top of mind when it comes to brunch, but Hanoi House just snagged top spot in my mind for the upcoming cooler weather here in NYC. Sara Leveen and Ben Lowell make the perfect team; they’re hospitable, passionate, and incredibly talented. They knew it would be hard work serving brunch at their cozy Vietnamese restaurant on St. Marks because they’d have to forego their typical Sunday dinner prep, but the overflowing tables and packed seats at the bar when the Bitches showed up for brunch at Hanoi House speak for themselves.
My friend Chelsea and I snuggled right up at the bar where Lowell guided us through every decadent flavor and creative recipe of our meal. From the mismatched dishware to the open kitchen right in the center of the dining area, Hanoi House immediately radiated homeyness– not to mention the cozy scent of Vietnamese spices.
Feeling a bit under the weather still from our Friday night festivities, I started off with a glass of iced citrus green tea lightly sweetened with mint syrup. As I sipped the refreshing beverage, we closely listened to Lowell rattle off the his expertise of the menu and his love for Southern Vietnamese flavors. He insisted we start with the crispy spring rolls, and so it was.
To be honest, when the appetizer landed on the countertop we weren’t exactly sure how to eat it. Come to find out each crispy nugget of crab and pork is made to be rolled up in one of the pieces of lettuce and doused in the nuoc cham. Chelsea and I were having fun with this DIY dish and were also astonished by the innovative combination of textures, temperatures, and flavors like no other spring roll we’d had before.
At yet another recommendation from our Hanoi House guru, Chelsea ordered the Banh Mi Ba Chi Nuong for her entree. This pork belly baguette was served simply in brown paper to let the ingredients shine. A fried egg, bacon aioli– yes, I said bacon, pickled vegetables, jalapeno, and cilantro topped the honey roasted pork belly for an out of this world, juicy flavor explosion between two pieces of crispy bread. Although she was almost stuffed after just half the sandwich, Chelsea couldn’t resist gobbling up every crumb on the plate.
A trip to Hanoi House wouldn’t be complete without a taste of one of their acclaimed, artisanal pho creations. I decided to go for the Pho Chay, or vegetable pho, to break the traditional beef route. What I noticed first was that this pho had an underlying sweetness to the broth. I’m often overwhelmed by the salty nature of the Vietnamese soup, so this imaginative twist was much appreciated. Hanoi House’s version was a mushroom and seawood base filled creatively with charred brussel sprouts, roasted beets, morning glory, and rice noodles. I loved the way the noodles turned bright magenta in the broth. The huge bowl of pho might have been enough for two to share, so I packed up half for home.
We ended our meal with a quick chat amongst us and Sara in regards to their hesitations about opening for brunch and how she believes her intuition has played a role in Hanoi House’s success. She and Ben are constantly taste testing every dish on the menu to ensure their vision is translated into the meal. They must be doing something right because Hanoi House constantly has a crowd out the door on this popular restaurant lined street in the East Village.
The Bitches say: Five Flutes. Although Vietnamese might not be the first cuisine you think of when you think brunch, Hanoi House is serving up imaginative versions of the traditional fare perfect for cozying up with a loved one as the cool air starts to encroach on New York City.
Hanoi House serves brunch on Sundays from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.