143 Grand Street
New York, NY 10013
(212) 431-7999

Vietnamese cuisine is typically the love child of Thai and French chefs and you can usually trust that there'll be spices and sauces and coconut and oomph. Unless you eat at Bun Soho. Midwesterns rejoice! Your taste buds are safe. Bun Soho, all too often, left its spice rack in Saigon. The flavors are soft. In my opinion, too much so.

On two occasions I ventured into Bun Soho, Michael Bao Huynh's SoHo noodle bistro. One time was with my out-of-towner friend Seth, and the other time was with my in-of-towner friends Mr. Dogz and Speeds. Both times the meals tasted fine, if not run of the mill, but the experiences were otherwise not similar at all.

Bun serves mostly small plates dishes or noodle bowls, which average about $12 each. Share a few with a friend and the meal can be very reasonable. This is especially the case if you skip the drinks. Speaking of which, Bun has two drinks named after assault rifles used in the Vietnam War, the AK-47 and the M-16. Manly man names... girly ingredients. I had hoped to compare them, but at $10 a pop, I ended up nixing that idea (that would have doubled the cost of the meal). The M-16 was like a condensed, burning white Russian.

Seth, exhausted from spending the last 10 hours covering a convention, met me in midtown in the lobby of his hotel. After a quick howdyado, we grabbed the first yellow train we could get to Canal Street and hoofed it two blocks north to Bun. Seth wasn't very hungry, so he ordered only one thing, the Bun Nem Cuu, a noodle bowl with lamb, spring rolls and pickled papaya. I ordered the Bun Steak, a very similar noodle bowl, but this time served with slices of hanger steak, pineapple, Asian mustard green and mint. The bowls are a pretty good size, but I recommend starting with something else or ordering a side of rice. They're very light.

I couldn't think of leaving having had only tried a couple of dishes, so I also partook of Bun's Chim Cut Roti, a salad-like plate with quail that had been served in a soy-garlic-barbecue-butter glaze. Delicious, though not very filling. Still, as I said, Bun operates on the ever more popular small plates theme.

The atmosphere at Bun, at least when Seth and I went, was very relaxed. Everyone from the waitresses to the customers seemed to be in an almost constant state of laughter. While it wasn't crowded, it was loud enough that you could talk without fearing that every other table would be listening in. The people here were all in their 20s and 30s and I'm pretty sure that one of the tables was occupied entirely by models.

Believing that ordering three dishes from a good sized menu is a half-assed way of assessing a restaurant, I managed to guilt Speeds into helping me get a second round here. She, in turn, guilted Mr. Dogz. Or was it that she bribed him? Guilted... bribed... same difference.

We can mid-week and it was... deserted. When you're the loudest people there, the sexy party vibe goes bye bye. On the other hand, we had half the place to ourselves, so we didn't feel like anyone was being disturbed by our boisterosity... except our impatient dick of a waiter. We lucked out when he swapped with a waitress who was great.

We started with an order of Goi Cuon, a shrimp and pork belly roll wrapped in lettuce, mint and peanut, served with a garlic sweet and sour sauce. Speeds, allergic to garlic, traded appetizers with me. I ordered Banh Khoc, a plate of diced pork, bean and mushroom mini-cakes. I liked the mini-cakes, but Speeds felt that they were too greasy. As for the shrimp rolls, they were bland, even when buried in the garlic sauce, which I wasn't a great fan of to begin with.

Three bowls of noodles were dinner. Speeds ordered the Bun Steak steak bowl I tried the first time I ate here and she liked it, appreciating the sweetness of the apples and pineapples, but not expecting the dish to be a cold one with hot meat. Mr. Dogz ordered the Bun Ca, a grilled fish noodle bowl with cucumber, turmeric and dill, served with an anchovy sauce. While praising the dish incessantly (I liked it too, incidentally), he recommends that they triple the amount of anchovy sauce that it comes with, as it made the dish. My dinner was the Pho Bo, a beef and oxtail noodle soup that was the only hot entree of the evening. It was served with a little selection of spices and a tiny cube of lime. My suggestion is the squeeze the lime in, then dump everything else in. Again, that damn blandness. In fact, to get the requisite spice-induced nose running, I had to ask for another little plate of spice. Then it was quite tasty and is my official entree of choice.

Meal One: Two Bun bowls, one small plate, one flaming cocktail shot, and two beers, plus tax and tip came to $71.
Meal Two: Two Bun Bowls, two appetizers, and a soup, plus tax and tip came to $55.

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