By Benjamin Ramos http://Sofritoinmysoul.blogspot.com
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
By Benjamin Ramos http://Sofritoinmysoul.blogspot.com
Mom-and-pop restaurants are the culinary backbone of our communities. Often overlooked and underestimated, these restaurants serve us comfort food, give us a place to relax, and provide sanctuary from the stress of daily life. They allow us to reconnect with our community and with ourselves. Any time I need that type of TLC, I go to Com Tam Ninh Kieu and indulge myself in the amazing flavors of Vietnam.
Located in Kingsbridge Heights in the Northwest Bronx, Com Tam Ninh Kieu is a small mom-and-pop Vietnamese restaurant on Jerome Avenue; this section of the neighborhood is home to a small community of Vietnamese and Thai immigrants. The decor is simple: there are 9 tables; a take out counter; and a large flat screen TV mounted on the right wall. The restaurant is clean, simple and comfortable. It’s a wonderful place to talk with friends, read, or write a review.
Com Tam Ninh Kieu's patrons are a cross section of the neighborhood. On any given night, you can overhear conversations in English, Vietnamese, Spanish or certain West African languages. This diverse clientele speaks volumes about their food and ambiance.
Like many other mom-and-pop restaurants, your dishes are cooked to order so service will be slow. This is part of Com Tam Ninh Kieu's charm! Don't look at it as your food taking a long time to cook. See it for what it really is: your food is being artfully crafted by wonderful chefs who are taking their time to cook you a delicious meal.
The last time I visited, my server was an older woman whose toothy smile and welcoming demeanor set the tone for a wonderful visit. I couldn't help, but think of her as my Vietnamese abuelita (Grandmother in Spanish and pronounced “ah-bweh-lee-tah”). All of Com Tam Ninh Kieu’s wait staff is attentive and welcoming.
As I looked over the menu, my abuelita said, “A big boy like you needs good food…soup… or pork chops.” I love pork chops more than anything or anyone, but I wasn’t in the mood for pork so I carefully perused the menu for the right order. Com Tam Ninh Kieu’s menu is divided into eight sections: Khai Vi (Appetizers), Pho Bo (16 Beef Noodle Soups), Pho Kho (3 Beef Stews), Pho Ga (4 Chicken Rice Noodle Soups), Mi (2 Egg Noodle Soups), Dac Biet Hai San (3 Special Seafood), Bun (7 types ofVermicelli), and Com Dia (11 Rice Plates with Pork Chops, Beef or chicken).
As I looked over the appetizers, the words “Vietnamese Fried Egg Rolls” caught my famished eyes. According to my abuelita, they’re made fresh everyday and are, “…very good!” Intrigued, I decided to order them; she smiled and assured me I would love them. The Appetizers section also features: Fresh Spring Rolls (Clear rice paper rolls with vegetables and shrimp); Fish cakes (Breaded fish patties fried with herbs and spices); and Shrimp cakes (breaded shrimp patties made with herbs and spices).
As I tasted the egg rolls-5 to an order- I realized my abuelita was wrong! The egg rolls weren’t good; they were amazing! Warm and crispy, the rice paper wrap made a delightful crunch as I bit into them. The moist stuffing (ground pork and chicken with mushrooms, carrots, cabbage, and kohlrabi) was savory and delicious. A tangy dipping sauce (a mix of vinegar, chili paste, and garlic) was paired with the rolls, which added a wonderful heat and acidic flavor to the dish.
My abuelita asked me what I thought of the egg rolls; she beamed with pride as I complimented the delicious appetizer. She told me they were made from a special family recipe. I asked her what made them special and she gave me a sly toothy smile and replied it was a secret. She snickered, tussled my hair, and then asked for my dinner order.
Com Tam Ninh Kieu’s dinner menu features an enormous selection of soups, stews and rice plates. Their most popular dish is the Pho Bo (pronounced “fuh bah”), a traditional Vietnamese soup made with white rice noodles in clear beef broth, green and white onions and slim cuts of beef (such as steak, fatty flank, lean flank, brisket, tendon, tripe, or meatballs). Their menu features 16 varieties of Pho Bo each with a different combination of beef cuts.
My abuelita recommended the Special Combo #2, which is a Pho Bo that combines all the beef cuts together in one soup. She said it was their most popular Pho and assured me it was delicious. Like any good grandson, I followed her advice and ordered the Special Combo #2.
Served with a side dish of bean sprouts, basil, lemon and jalapeño pepper slices, the soup was served piping hot in a large bowl; the portion is generous to say the least. The addition of Hoisin sauce (a Vietnamese/Chinese condiment made from soybean paste, garlic, chilies, various spices, sugar and vinegar) and Red Chili paste added a wonderful sweet and spicy seasoning to the already savory beef broth. The plentiful beef cuts were tender and delicious. The bean sprouts, basil and jalapeños provided a nice crunchy texture, in contrast to the long soft rice noodles. The Pho was simple, delicious and satisfying; I could see why it’s a neighborhood favorite.
Com Tam Ninh Kieu might be hard to pronounce, but the food speaks very clearly for itself. So if you are interested in delicious South East Asian food, then head up to the North West Bronx and visit Com Tam Ninh Kieu! Remember to say hi to my abuelita! Go taste for yourself! ¡Buen provecho!
HOURS: Open 7 days from 9am-10pm.
ATMOSPHERE: Casual, warm, fun and inviting.
SOUND LEVEL: Conversational.
KID FRIENDLY: Yes.
RECOMMENDED DISHES: Pho Bo.
BEVERAGES: Vietnamese hot coffee, ice coffee, and various sodas.