If you are a regular reader of this blog then you know I’m not a huge fan of the “Midtown Deli”. You know the place I’m talking about- salad bar, pre-made sandwiches, there’s one on every block. So when my friend Joanne emailed a link to a New Yorker article about one of these very places, I was pretty surprised. The New Yorker was writing about a Midtown Lunch deli??? I expected more from you, oh high-brow’d New Yorker…
In their defense Dishes is a little more “high brow’d” then your typical Midtown Deli, but still a deli nonetheless. The article is more about some sort of staff issue then about the food- but they did slip this intuitive observation into the opening:
“A decent midtown lunch spot—not the expense-account sort but a good, clean sandwich shop, with a fresh salad bar, and maybe some seafood tom yum, if that’s your thing—can be hard to come by. Once you find one, you tend to stick with it. You learn the hourly cycles, in terms of both customer flow (twelve-forty-five equals chaos) and servers’ shifts, and you begin to time your visits accordingly.”
True enough. Well, against my better judgement, I decided to head over to Dishes at 12:45pm yesterday and check out the chaos. I’ve walked by this place a million times (usually on my way to Oms/b) and thought it looked like an above average deli. It’s been recommended to me by a few readers- but it wasn’t until the New Yorker described it as a “a sleek, vaguely Asian-themed cafeteria”, I decided it was time for a visit… after all, I love the Asian food. Of course, I saw only “Asian”, and missed the “vaguely” part. Very important distinction.
Pictures, what I ate, and the +/- after the jump…
For many “Dishes” is exactly what the New Yorker describes. A decent lunchtime place, that for many is probably a crutch. Close to the office, minimum effort, a multiple times a week kind of thing. I was only interested in checking out the “Asian” part of this cafeteria, which if you ignore the new “Bubble Tea”, pretty much amounted to a Noodle Bar. You can make your own soup by choosing a broth (Chinese, Thai Tom Yum, Indonesian, Japanese Nabeyaki, or Vietnamese Pho), one protein (Thinly sliced chicken, beef, salmon or poached shrimp), type of noodle (Thai Glass, Japanese Udon, Angel Hair Egg, or Vietnamese Rice Noodles), and your veggies… or choose from one of their 8 “favorite combinations”.
I forgot that the article had mentioned the Seafood Tom Yum soup, and decided to go with the Beef Pho. I haven’t really heard of any good quick and/or cheap Vietnamese places in Midtown, so if this Pho was good, it would be quite the find. The soup comes in two containers. The first started with thin slices of already cooked beef, been sprouts, cilantro, mint, Thai basil, red jalapenos, scallions and baby spinach. Once it was all assembled, the hot beef broth was poured over the top. The second container was a bowl with noodles (in this particular soup- Vietnamese rice noodles), which insured that your noodles don’t end up mushy from the walk back to the office.
Once combined the smell was pretty delicious… they gave you plenty of beef which was a good thing, and overall it was good looking soup. Unfortunately the broth was not as good as the smell. I don’t usually like to be critical- because if a place is open, it means somebody likes the food- but on the other hand I don’t want people to go expecting the greatest Pho ever, being disappointed, and then thinking I’m an idiot for recommending this horrible Pho.
The truth is, it’s not all that bad, but it certainly wasn’t as flavorful as the aroma. All in all it’s a good soup, but a little pricey at $10.50. The ingredients seemed pretty fresh, and it is a pretty large soup, so if you don’t mind paying that kind of money, then you’ll probably like it more then the budget conscious eater. The red jalepenos added a nice kick when you ate them, but overall the soup wasn’t spicy either… so don’t expect it to be too spicy (a plus or a minus depending on who you’re asking).
Not bad for a first visit, but I would definitely be interested in trying some of the other soups- like the Seafood Tom Yum. They will give you samples, so on the way out I tasted the Indonesian Vegetarian Coconut Tamarind broth… once again the smell was delicious, but the taste fell a tiny bit short. Not bad by any stretch, but not necessarily $10.50 good. I do wonder if a whole bowl would be any different…
I didn’t try anything else, so I can really only comment on the noodle bar, but I will say this- Dishes is not cheap relative to other delis. On the other hand, the food looked better- so people who swear by it will probably say “You get what you pay for”, while haters will say “I know better places that are cheaper”. The by the pound buffet did look pretty awesome, but at almost $9 a lb, it could easily put me into debt. There are some other things on the menu that looked interesting like the two Vietnamese Bahn Mi sandwiches (and don’t even get me started on the amazing looking desserts)… but those will have to wait for another day.
THE + (what people who like this place will say)
- You get what you pay for. That extra cost goes into more interesting sandwiches, home-made asian noodle soups, better choices at the buffet, and super fresh ingredients
- There aren’t any Vietnamese restaurants, and the beef Pho is good enough
- Packaging the soup in two seperate containers means your noodles won’t get mushy on the walk back to the office
THE – (what people who don’t like this place will say)
- Too expensive. $10.50 for a bowl of soup?!?! $8.90/lb for the buffet. I can get better food for cheaper.
- Too hectic. It’s very popular, and at prime lunchtime can get very busy.
- Soups don’t taste as good as they smell.
- If I want Asian Noodle Soups I’ll eat at one of the Japanese ramen bars (like Men Kui Tei, Menchenkotei or Sapporo). Even Yum Thai is better…
Dishes, 6 E. 45th St. (btw. Mad+5th), 212-687-5511