On Monday, January 26, which happened to be the lunar new year (some call it the "Chinese" new year), I was in New York City to deliver some work downtown. I was looking forward to having lunch with an old friend. We were going to meet at Zen Palate, my favorite Asian vegetarian place, in Union Square. Zen Palate had been open since at least 1995 and was a regular lunch stop when I'd last worked in the Flatiron Building not far away.
Sadly, Zen Palate had closed its doors. After doing a vigorous business for more than 10 years, Zen Palate's closure had more to do with the recent, precipitious economic decline than its food. Instead, we went to Lannam Vietnamese Restaurant, a first for me. Hopefully not my last.
For starters, the staff welcomed us as if we were Norm and Cliff and this place was Cheers. The waiter arrived after we'd had a chance to settle in and took our drink order. His timing was just as good throughout the meal--he was attentive but not hovering, let us have our space but didn't make us feel forgotten.
My friend, an Asian food enthusiast, ordered the Vietnamese rice noodles (commonly known as Pad Thai) with shrimp, shredded vegetables, and crushed peanuts in Nuoc Cham sauce made with garlic, red pepper flakes, fresh lime juice, and fish sauce. I ordered the sauteed chicken, sliced thin, with crispy snow peas and nearly opaque slivers of lemongrass, which gave the pale, nearly clear ginger sauce a burst of spring that was pleasing on a blustery winter day. This was all served on a bed of white rice, though brown rice and fried rice are also offered. The portions were huge for lunchtime.
But perhaps the best part was the bill. Turns out Lannam is one of the best bargains in the city, named one of the Top 100 Buys for the Buck by Zagat survey. I used an Andrew Jackson to pay for drinks, lunch, and the tip. Now that's a happy new year!
Lannam Vietnamese Cuisine
121 University Place
(one block south of Union Square West @ 13th Street)
New York, NY