For Bò Cà Phê, home is that crowded dining enclave known as Soho’s Petrosino Square. Its menu centers around Vietnamese rice noodle salads, or bò bún, as they’re referred to in French, a near-perfect dish for the health obsessed. Bò Cà Phê builds its version using gluten-free rice noodles, sprouts, carrots, cucumber, fresh herbs, a lean protein of choice and dressing on the side. But despite the elegant table water infused with cucumber and mint, there are obvious menu shortcomings seemingly rooted in appeasing a gentrified clientele.
These missteps are best epitomized by the restaurant’s interpretation of nuoc mam, the ubiquitous dressing that traditionally contains a wonderfully complex combination that is all at once tangy, sweet and spicy. The version employed by Bò Cà Phê is meekly light and saccharine sweet, offered as Vietnamese food with training wheels. The Green Papaya Chicken Sà-lat ($12) is also lifelessly bland, and the Bao Bun ($8), traditionally constructed using fattier pork cuts, is mismatched with chicken and beef too dry and too lean.
The eggplant version, however, shines with meatier flavor than its gamey counterparts and a high level of umami. The Vàch Kî Rî ($7), a fried spring roll appetizer, highlights a French influence with its whole-grain crispy exterior shielding a soft cream cheese center.
Yes, Bò Cà Phê provides Soho dwellers with Southeast Asian fare and the chance to get Vietnamese noodles without having to navigate Chinatown, but the trade-off is bland flavors and uncomfortable seating.
BY: TIME OUT COMMUNITY REVIEWER MICHAEL PEARSON