When I’d scooted past the little takeout window on that winter day, I just knew that the food it served couldn’t be bad. It had that je ne sais quoi, which hinted at that. So, I’d made a mental note to check out the place the next time I was in the neighborhood.
That opportunity presented itself on a recent weekday afternoon. A queue of well-dressed men—mostly men—were waiting in line to order. The awning on the shop read: Num Pang. A blackboard, parked on the sidewalk, announced the menu in chalk.
I gave it a quick once-over. None of the gourmet sandwiches—all twists on the classic Vietnamese banh mi—sounded boring. We could’ve ordered them all, but M. and I settled for the only vegetarian one on the menu: a roasted-cauliflower sandwich.
It takes quite some culinary sophistication to make a veggie taste good as a topping for a tartine or a filling between breads. I was eager to taste what ours would be like. Perfectly seasoned cauliflower florets and carrots twigs, spread on a chili-mayo dressing, served between a freshly toasted semolina-flour baguette, it was refreshing.
We had it at the tiny eating area in the upper level, reached by a spiral staircase, no wider than those inside the Boeing-747s. Squatting on a very low, Japanese-style stool and a table, overlooking the East Village, we had it smiling.