Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Mekong, New Brunswick, NJ
I went back to Mekong in downtown New Brunswick, this time with my camera. This place has been lighting up the boards on Chowhound and was featured in the Digest a few weeks ago. So in two trips, I've tried a good smattering of dishes off the menu and while I'd definitely go back here because of proximity, I still think Philly Vietnamese is better.
Here's a roundup of stuff I've tried --
Fried spring rolls -- ok, but unexciting. I like the ones at Vietnam and Xe Lua in Philly better - more flavorful filling, crispier skins.
Shrimp summer rolls -- less rubbery skins than some places, but at the speed that these came out, you could still tell that they were pre-made. I felt the need for basil or mint or something fresh inside.
Banh xeo (Vietnamese crepe) -- the egg crepe was nice and light and unusually for me, I actually liked the vegetarian version better, which had a nice mix of shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts. The pork and shrimp version just had bean sprouts.
Bun Bo Hue -- a thicker spicier beef noodle soup. Noodles were more akin to udon -- good, but I think I still prefer pho. Same goes for the broth -- it was nice and spicy, but I think I still prefer pho broth -- more subtle.
Pho -- this is my litmus test for Vietnamese restaurants, and it just didn't excite me here. I'm still loyal to Xe Lua in Philly -- noodles are fresher, broth more flavorful, rarer beef more thinly sliced. And Mekong didn't even have my favorite pho combo on their menu - rare beef with tendon!
Banh Hoi Bo Lui (Grilled Rolled Beef with Onions) and another Banh dish with grilled pork and shrimp cakes (pictured above) -- These were by far my favorite things. The little rice noodle sheets that you use to wrap the meat in were perfectly made, the perfect texture. They were soft, but completely held together when dipped in sauce.
Grilled Pork chop with shredded pork and crab patty -- This was just alright. I thought the pork was kind of dry. The pork-crab patty was interesting, but didn't have any real discernible crabmeat - I think I was hoping for the wonderful pork-crab combination achieved in soup dumplings.
My friend, who had lived in Vietnam over the summer, was disappointed at the number of times he had to ask the waitress to bring us more fish sauce, and especially disappointed that they didn't have chopped green chilis in the sauce. I did, however, have a delicious banana shake, and one day want to try the fried banana dessert here...
If you have the time to drive to Chinatown or Washington Street in Philly for Vietnamese, do it. But if you live in central Jersey and need a fix, find Mekong (351 George St., New Brunswick).