I didn't make the connection from the restaurant's name alone, but the hand-lettered signs jogged my memory.
This Manhattan restaurant, I soon discovered, is under the same ownership as Com Tam Ninh Kieu, on Jerome Ave. in the Bronx. That older Vietnamese establishment has a hole-in-the-wall appeal and a workmanlike menu; the dining room of this newer venue is more spacious and accommodating, and the menu is much more extensive, but so far the kitchen hasn't displayed extraordinary flair.
My most satisfying single dish to date has been the namesake of the original, Bronx location, com tam Ninh Kieu (house special broken rice, $8.50). When cooked, the individual grains of broken rice become softer than intact rice prepared to the same recipe, and they readily take on other flavors — say, from the juices of a grilled pork chop. Take a bite of this, a bite of that: a tangle of shredded pork, a shrimp fritter, a crab patty, the usual fresh vegetables and pickles. Save a little rice for those last juices.
Two fried dishes — a banh xeo, sometimes called a Vietnamese crepe ($8.15), and bun cha, spring rolls on rice vermicelli ($6.50) — were crisp in all the right places yet left me flat. A notable but not unpleasant charred flavor, and lots of onion, marked the grilled beef in bo luc lac ($10.75).
That bo luc lac was meant to be an order of bo la lot, a Vietnamese upgrade to grape-leaf wraps; when grilled with minced beef, these particular leaves impart a black-peppery kick. The manager later told me, perhaps charitably, that my pronunciation was very good and that the waiter might have misheard; he promised a make-good on my next visit. Perhaps I'll point to the menu, just to be sure.
87 Chrystie St. (Hester-Grand Sts.), Manhattan