January 12, 2004 | Ask Gael

Set me straight on the new Vietnamese spots

        Bao 111 and Bao Noodles are re-markably different from Nam or Cyclo, yet I’ll gladly make a long detour for any of them. Now comes Bôi, direct from Ho Chi Minh City to a rather sedate space near Grand Central. Though the staff seems a bit spacey, the kitchen shines with elegant layering of flavors and the tingling of tomato or lime perking up everything from grilled eggplant to the sensational Buddhist sweet-and-sour soup and the sizzling Saigon crêpe filled to overflowing with shrimp, meatballs, bean sprouts, and more. Crispy fried rolls, folded into tiny squares, hide a luscious mix of crabmeat, pork, and shiitake. The fresh vegetable rolls are also wonderfully complex. Ditto the seafood soup with shrimp, crabmeat dumplings, tomato, and peanuts. But portions seem small and prices high compared with the budget-friendly competition. True, Bôi has pastry wizard Bill Yosses moonlighting from Citarella. Taste his tamarind cake with red papaya or the jackfruit toffee pudding with homemade vanilla ice cream.

246 East 44th Street 212 681 6541

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