If you live in New York City, you probably have been to at least one or two Korean BBQ restaurants, most likely somewhere around the (in)famous Korea Town strip on 32nd Street of Manhattan, but it’s a good bet you haven’t been to many Vietnamese BBQ places. That was the case for me as well, and my experience with Vietnamese food has thus far been embarrassingly limited outside of pho noodle soup, and when it comes to visiting Asian restaurants, my wife and I would probably first think of Thai, Chinese, Japanese or Korean places. The novelty of Madame Vo BBQ in East Village therefore intrigued me but for some reason I never had a proper opportunity to visit the restaurant until recently when we had a dinner with another couple that we had known for years. The couple, both of Hispanic background, certainly loves eating as much as we do so I thought a meat feast at Madame Vo BBQ would be quite an appropriate way to catch up for the first time in several months. Overall, I had a lot to like about the grill experience at the restaurant which is quite distinct from what I had been used to from Korean BBQ joints.
Especially if you are in a large party of four or more, the way to properly eat at Madame Vo BBQ (and trust me on this) is to order the Beef 7 Ways course that gets you seven different types of beef dishes, starting with one appetizer, followed by five distinct meat types that you can wrap in rice paper (which you need to first hold the circle figure in warm water until it softens up) along with vermicelli noodles and a variety of vegetables and three different types of sauces (tamarind, anchovy paste and fish sauce), and then capped off by a bowl of congee. The appetizer, a beef carpaccio salad, came with addictively citrusy flavor coming from homemade lime-tangerine vinaigrette and rau ram oil, and the thin raw beef’s texture worked very well with the crispy shallots and shaved red onions.
In the main show, all five meats – ground beef rolled in betel leaf, lemongrass-marinated short rib roll, roast Berkshire pork meatball, braised five-spice beef tongue and dry-aged New York strip Vietnamese steak (which was my favorite among the five) – displayed distinct flavor and texture, and it was quite a fun experience to wrap each type in the rice paper. Having grown up with Korean BBQ, Jun and I tend to prefer non-marinated beef where the flavor doesn’t overwhelm the texture of the meat, but it was hard to deny that all the flavors used for these beefs had addictive qualities to them that were integral to having a delicious BBQ meal. The congee, accompanied by oxtail in the middle and made with honey-fish sauce, gave a nice finishing touch, although by the time everyone got to it, we were already quite full from all the beef fest so it was different to finish the entire bowl of rice porridge.
Getting a reservation at Madame Vo BBQ wouldn’t be too difficult so long as you book around a week in advance. The casual and hip décor of the place makes it an ideal restaurant for group dinners if your friends share the same passion for anything meat that you do. The restaurant doesn’t yet have a liquor license but serves a handful of sake, beer and wine options to complement the meat. Madame Vo BBQ was quite a pleasant surprise, and I am happy to go to back to the restaurant with other groups of friends next time for a grilled BBQ experience that is not from my motherland. You certainly won’t walk away hungry after the meal if you go with the Beef 7 Ways course.
KenScale: 8.25/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.0/10)
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
- Value: 8.0/10
Address: 104 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10003
Telephone: (917) 675-7570