Why did I not remember that we had eaten once before at 5ive Spice, a small Park Slope Vietnamese with a bathroom door that doubles as a spice shelf? “We definitely went there,” the Chef insisted impatiently. But I had absolutely no memory of it until I did: a blistering hot summer night, me complaining about either bad food or bad service or, more likely, life in general. While the Chef remembered the rich broth of the house Pho, I could not even summon the wisp of a flavor. Such is the danger of dining while sour.
My daughter is teaching me millennial slang—new meanings for old words like “tight,” and “salty.” Someone is “salty,” when she's irritated or angry at little things. I realized I had my own seasoning-related term for a state of mind I find myself in all too often: sour. When I’m sour I’m negative, grumpy and almost determined to spoil the good mood of those around me, just itching to tinge their bright white linen with the sallow yellow stain of complaint.
The opposite of sour, for me, isn’t sweet, though, but light, as if invisible burdens have been lifted from my shoulders. And so it was with this better, breezy mood that I went to 5ive Spice again the other week—delighted with the service, the menu, which featured tantalizing Bánh Xèo tacos ($8.00/2), and a Pho broth that the Chef was so right about that I had food envy after I ordered a vermicelli dish instead.
We're so used to fusion foods that I immediately assumed these Vietnamese tacos were a Vietnamese/Mexican hybrid, like Korilla BBQ's Korean tacos, which started in the US. However, I was surprised to learn that Bánh Xèo are a Hanoi favorite with a name that means "sizzling cakes." The yellow taco shells are rice cakes, yellow with turmeric and a bit more rubbery than soft Mexican corn tortillas. Yet they nicely enclosed my filling of ground pork and shrimp without getting soggy. Daikon, pickles, cilantro, mint and fried shallots brightened the sweet, dense meaty fishy melange.
And the tacos aren't the only item that fit within my snacking budget. All the pho bowls are $10 except the one the Chef ordered, the house spicy braised short rib pho, which was worth the extra $2.00. I could taste star anise in it and the redolent "five spice" mixture for which the restaurant is named. What's more, unlike many pho bowls that are sparing with the meat, this one had tender fringes of braised beef in every spoonful--spoonfuls I kept taking even though I did enjoy my "Bubba," a vermicelli salad with grilled shrimp, cut up fried spring rolls and a spicy srichacha-doused sauce for dipping ($10.00). Vermicelli salads, however, are inevitably too dry to keep my interest. Best to order on a hot, steamy New York day, like the day I was too "sour" to appreciate the goodness of 5ive Spice.
Words for the moody and attitude-y: dining out when sour or salty will tint your tastebuds, so I'm advocating going back to places you dissed when you were not in the right frame of mind to experience them. That's not to say you want to return to the place where your ex dumped you--that venue will be forever poisoned. However, if you experienced garden variety saltiness or sourness when you went to a place that others are raving about: Go back!
52 5th Ave. (btw St. Marks Ave. and Bergen St.)