October 22, 2001 | Ask Gael
What's blooming on the fringe of ground zero?

        Nam, with its pale lemon and celadon walls and its illuminated bamboo poles, is a pristine haven from the still-acrid air north of the Chambers Street subway. But managing partner Steven Duong, a seasoned survivor from Saigon, was determined to open, even though the earliest-arriving fans of his crisp, clear Vietnamese dishes at Cyclo had to walk south from the barricades on Canal. Drawn by the light and by moving family photographs on sconces Duong himself designed, welcoming neighbors have been quick to stop by, sampling wonderful bo bia (soft rice-paper rolls filled with jícama, shrimp, and sweet sausage), chopped monkfish on spicy rice crisps, and the luscious shrimp-chicken-and-bean sprout-filled coconut crêpes of central Vietnam. Promising to return often. To Duong, the trio of cooks -- Hoang Do, Tien Pham, and Quy Tran -- are family, "Auntie," "Mother," and "Sister." The cooks shop Chinatown for greens and sausage for lovingly remembered street food like thit nuong cuon (lemongrass-beef-and-sesame rice-paper rolls) and flat shrimp dumplings steamed in banana leaf as well as tangy green-papaya salad and classic curries, all gently priced. Try thick, sweet Vietnamese coffee with dessert -- warm banana bread and Tahitian vanilla ice cream, or ginger flan au caramel.

Nam 110 Reade Street, 212 267 1777

Patina Restaurant Group