Did I spot, say, Kate Moss slobbering down a crock of pig-rich Bun Bo Hue during my visits to Mai House? I did not. But there were plenty of people checking their fur coats by the bar on a recent Saturday evening. Still, crowds don’t necessarily equal cool. Upon making my reservation, I was politely informed that I had to vacate my table by 9:15, so we did not linger over the perfunctory selection of South Asian–themed desserts. These include different ice creams and sorbets flavored with risqué ingredients like black sesame or cinnamon, and a not very fresh helping of almond cake dribbled with tapioca balls. The most authentically Vietnamese confection is a bowl of sweet black rice wreathed, not very successfully, in a mango-flavored foam. The least authentic happens, tellingly, to be the best. It’s that familiar delicacy chocolate ganache cake, here garnished fashionably with a little sidecar of candied tangerines. Is this grand culinary theater on a Nobu scale? Nope. But if you’re looking for a semi-hip Vietnamese meal in the big city, it will have to do.
Address: 186 Franklin St., nr. Greenwich St.; 212-431-0606.
Hours: Dinner 5:45 to midnight, Monday through Saturday.
Prices: Appetizers, $9 to $14; entrées, $18 to $29.
Ideal Meal: Spicy beef salad, frog’s legs “lollipops” or wild-boar sausage, Wagyu-beef-cheek stew, chocolate ganache with tangerines.
Note: The fashionable cocktail to get is the “ ’Jito,” a mojito equivalent containing lemongrass and curry leaves.
Scratchpad: Michael Bao Huynh is a multi-star chef, but we liked his work better on a smaller, more intimate scale.