Working my way through the Vietnamese fish sandwich at Xie Xie, the newest addition to the New York Asian sandwich scene, a phrase kept ringing through my head: “I’m not seeing the forest for the trees.”
In this case, it was the fact that two thick layers of dill, paired with a slender portion of turmeric-seasoned fish, ended up being so overwhelming that it was hard to get a sense of the sandwich as a whole.
All you truly noticed was that you had a mouth full of dill. (And a lot of bread.)
As for the fish — which is the star of chaca la vong, the heady dill- and turmeric-scented Hanoi dish that this $8.75 sandwich was modeled and named after — that can be a little hard to detect after wading through all that dill and starch.
Which is not to say that Xie Xie isn’t worth checking out.
The place, billed as “an energetic fast-casual restaurant celebrating the vibrant flavors of Asia,” is the first of a few Asian sandwich spots that chef Angelo Sosa (formerly of Yum Cha and Jean-Georges) has planned.
The menu, featuring just five sandwiches, is about as tiny as its location, which occupies just a sliver of space along busy Ninth Avenue.
For starters, we sampled the glazed pork with a sweet and sour sauce on traditional Chinese buns ($8.50).
The versions of this “Asian sandwich” I grew up eating were delicious but both hearty and heart-stopping, filled with super-fatty soy sauce-braised pork belly. So I am all for versions that use less fatty meat, which this, thankfully, did.
The pulled pork was flavorful and the sweet and sour sauce was noticeable but not overpowering. The buns, however, were quite another matter.
Now, this restaurant is so small you can’t help but see everything that the chefs behind the counter are doing — so I knew that the buns had just been taken out of the steamer. And yet, they had none of the fluffy sponginess that these white, Chinese-style buns usually have.
Instead, they were a little stiff, making me wonder if they had been steamed long enough, and also broke apart at the fold, making for a rather messy eating experience.
The Vietnamese BBQ beef sandwich with carrot kim chee and basil mayonnaise looked more promising — for starters, the sandwich-assembler had highly, highly recommended it. And, it appeared to be the sandwich of choice for the few customers who were there on a recent mid-afternoon.
For $9, this behemoth of a sandwich is worth the money. It’s more like two sandwiches in one — though, still smaller than the $5 banh mis at Baoguette, which truly are an amazing deal in New York.
Xie Xie’s beef sandwich was satisfying, to be sure — the blend of tender beef with crisp kim chee was delightful. However, taste-wise, if the beef had been just a little more flavorful, it would have stood up to the sour kim chee a little better.
Dessert-wise, we found it impossible to resist ordering the 1,000-year-old ice-cream sandwich ($4).
I am not the biggest fan of Chinese preserved eggs — which are
eggs that turn gelatinous, green and brown after being preserved in
clay and ash — but I trusted that this was not what Xie Xie was doing.
Instead, theirs was a traditional ice-cream sandwich filled with a blob of black caramel in the middle. It was a delicious combination — but it would have worked better if the caramel had been mixed in more with the ice-cream so we didn’t get entire mouthfuls of teeth-hurting sweet caramel in between the sections of vanilla ice-cream.
(Of course, if the caramel had been mixed in more the dessert would hardly deserve its fetching name.)
As we left Xie Xie, I thought back to the restaurant Web site’s explanation of how to pronounce its name. Xie Xie means “Thank you” in Mandarin and the site notes that the words are pronounced “Shay Shay.”
actuality, it’s more like “Shi-eh Shi-eh.”
But that’s the thing with adaptations — whether it’s chaca la vong sandwiches or word pronunciations. There’s always going to be something lost or altered in translation.
Sometimes, that’s good. But other times, it isn’t.
Xie Xie, 645A 9th Avenue in New York, N.Y., 212.265.2975