Dr. Boyfriend and I had been watching too much “Bizarre Foods” and desperately wanted some pho from Xi’an Famous Foods, but we were too lazy to take the bus two miles downtown, so I hopped onto our favourite delivery site, Seamlessweb, to find someone who’d bring it to us.
And that day changed our lives forever. Since then, we’ve tried as much of Obao‘s menu as possible, but the problem is that everything is so good that we hate to give up our favourites to order the dishes we haven’t tried. So here’s what we’ve managed to eat thus far:
crispy pork belly ($9)
My friend Chubby Chinese Girl thought this was too dry and hard, and I can see where she’s coming from, but for me, the caramel glaze framing each piece more than makes up for any juicy pork expectations you might have. Plus, I actually enjoyed tearing the pork apart with my teeth like a wild person. I didn’t care much for the too-vinegary pickled papaya on the side, but the fresh mint was perfect.
spare rib on sugarcane skewer ($9)
I was skeptical about these. Dr. Boyfriend had them one weekend while I was away and assured me I would be impressed, but I . . . I don’t know what I was thinking. The spare rib is so deliciously grilled, and when you chew on the sugarcane as you sweep the meat off, the sweet juices leak out. Plus, the hoisin-peanut dipping sauce is just so rich you want to use the sugarcane to sponge it all up at the end.
crispy spring roll lettuce wraps ($7)
The fact that these are called “lettuce wraps” and are served with big pieces of nice-looking lettuce would make one assume that you’re supposed to wrap the spring roll in the lettuce and eat them together. But we have yet to do that. The spring rolls are perfect just as they are–fried and crispy on the outside but never overdone on the inside–and slapping some boring lettuce around all of that just seems like a good way to detract from the flavors of pork, shrimp, taro, and mushroom. But I’m open to debate.
sambal-spiced calamari ($10)
I’m under the impression that sambal is usually a spicy chili sauce, so the fact that the flavor is worked right into the calamari batter seems pretty neat to me, and Dr. Boyfriend appreciated the cooling cucumber relish on the side. Naturally I didn’t try this, because I still don’t entirely trust delivery seafood. Stop judging me.
Laos beef salad ($10)
A salad that doesn’t actually include any lettuce and is full of flank steak? Yes, please. These slices of tender steak and sweet fruit are marinating in cucumber and lime juices when they arrive, but don’t be fooled: this dish is spicy! So spicy that we sometimes can’t even finish it because we’re too busy crying and wiping our noses on each other. You think, “Pineapple! That should counteract the peppers.” But no. The only way to quench the fires is to cut out your tongue. And this salad is worth it.
Vietnamese chicken salad ($8)
For those of you who don’t like to weep in your dinner, this salad with shaved cabbage, rau ram herbs (the cilantro of Vietnam, apparently), lime dressing, and crushed peanuts is bright and summery. I liked it so much I was inspired to make my own cabbage salad the next weekend, which, if you know anything about me, is a major feat.
Pho Bo ($9)
This is a terrible picture of a much more interesting dish. With thinly slices of beef and rice noodles in a broth that punches with bold ginger and anise flavors, it’s messy and belly-filling. Dr. Boyfriend gets his with these beef balls that are kind of slick and slimy on the outside, but he swears they’re delicious.
Kua Gai ($11)
I often say that I don’t find Asian food comforting. I find it exciting and interesting, but if I’m looking for feel-good food, it probably doesn’t involve sesame, and it sure doesn’t involve lettuce. But I crave this dish. I think about it when it’s not near. I doodle its name on my memo pads at work.
It’s broad flat noodles with egg, sesame oil, scallions, and lettuce. I usually get mine with chicken, but I once accidentally ordered it vegetarian and still thought it was the best. I love the texture of egg mixed into dishes like this (soboro don is another favourite), and the sesame provides this deep, rich flavor that makes it seems like the chicken was cooked in it for hours. And the noodles. The noodles are pan-fried in such a way that their edges get crispy. I’m salivating here.
This is the very essence of comforting. Even with that lettuce.
I’m no Asian foods expert, so I won’t bother trying to speak of authenticity of the flavors and preparation at Obao, but in terms of sheer visceral experience, I look forward to ordering from Obao like other people look forward to Christmas. While I do think the appetizers and salads are each a few dollars overpriced, my Kua Gai is worth its weight in gold. For the well-developed flavors of absolutely everything we’ve ordered, 4.5 donuts.
222 East 53rd Street
New York, NY 10022 (map)