Gavin Kaysen's Reverse Engineered Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup
After seven stops on the 7 train, Gavin Kaysen, Executive Chef of Café Boulud and members of his kitchen crew, 7 strong, landed in Flushing where they embarked on a reconnaissance eating tour of the area's pho shops -- with a stop off at the Grand Restaurant in the New World Mall for dim sum. Fueled by Tsingtao, they explored in and around the dining rooms and stalls off Main Street, slurping and sweating their way to discovering the essence of pho -- that great Vietnamese noodle soup. Even with foggy heads, the mission was clear: take what they learned back to their kitchen at 76th and Madison and recreate it with a pronounced French technique.
“The quality of the broth knocked me out,” admits Kaysen, a Southern California native who grew up eating the stuff. “No matter where we were—or what type of establishment we visited —the broth was always pristine, delicate, yet extremely complex.” In conclusion, it would take the James Beard Award winning chef every bit of that golden medal to interpret the dish.
Over time his vermicelli-splattered tasting notes led to several broth iterations, with a final version debuting a month ago on the restaurant’s winter Le Voyage menu. He begins with a clarified beef stock, made from neck and oxtail bones. It is cooked down with a 12-spice mixture including cinnamon, clove and star anise and then seasoned with a light soy and house-made hoisin sauce. As for the glass noodles, they’re bought in Chinatown.“You cannot possibly improve them,” he says. They are topped first with beef tenderloin and braised beef tendons and then with a salad of mung beans, mint, Thai basil and cilantro.
The dish has been a big hit with the restaurant's Upper East Side clientele. It is poured tableside style français and available for the remainder of the season. It will also be the first of four courses at a Burgundy and Beyond wine dinner on February 8th where umami and Burgundy will wed for an evening. (There are still a few seats left at the communal table in the private dining room.)
When asked about how he found a wine to go with the rich, fatty noodle soup, the restaurant’s sommelier Blue Pilkington said, “I don't think it is really difficult at all so long as you have a wine with well-developed and integrated soft tannins.”
Though Burgundy can be a little more forgiving than most reds and holds up to pho’s robust broth, it’s still immensely challenging to match. Pilkington demystifies the concept: “The earthy quality of the wines made from the pinot noir grape head towards the umami spectrum, showing more intensity and purity than any other red wines do. Thus, the umami in the pho will draw out even more of the same from the wine.”
During the dinner Pilkington will pair three wines with the course, most notably the Etude Pinot Noir 1996 from Napa Valley (not technically a Burgundy, but the same grape). “These wines will compliment rather than be in any dominance over the pho and the final experience.”
As for Kaysen’s pairing suggestion? “Usually I’ll do it with a beer, which is probably the best way.”