South, Vietnam: Nightingale 9

04/24/2013 4:00 AM |

Nightingale 9
176 N. 9th Street, Williamsburg
3.5 L’s

Not all of Nightingale 9’s dishes pair staples of the American South with the bright, spicy flavors of Vietnamese cuisine, but lawdy, the best ones sure do. When we visited on a busy weeknight, clusters of peanuts with the perfect balance of salt, sticky sweetness and heat made a killer bar snack. Thinly shredded raw collard greens, marinated in citrus and spice just long enough to dampen their bitterness, were served in a tangle that resembled a seaweed salad and topped with delicately crispy fried shallot rings. Our pork belly was caramelized until it stuck to our teeth, as though hunks of rich pulled pork were coated with a butterscotch candy shell. The dish was served alongside a bowl of jasmine rice to soak up its spicy-sweet sauce, redolent of peppercorns and lemongrass.

The team behind the Smith Street Southern joint Seersucker and the buzzing coffee spot Canteen are also responsible for Nightingale 9, serving small plates, soups and noodle bowls priced in the $10 to $15 range—a little pricey for modest portions of street food served at communal picnic tables, especially because not all of the dishes we sampled were addictive like those sweet-savory peanut clusters. Though their roasted mushroom vermicelli bowl makes a valiant effort for vegan guests, an omnivorous friend described it as “kind of a nothingburger.” There weren’t enough of the umami roasted mushrooms, resulting in a few mouthfuls of plain rice noodles. A trio of serve-yourself sauces in the center of the table livened up the noodles—as long as our bench-sharing neighbors weren’t hogging the bottles. When we asked about the best seafood dishes to share among ourselves, our server recommended the fluke and crab salad, which was served like a tostada on a single piece of crispy rice paper. When we tried to break it into three bites, we sent a flurry of chilled seafood and fresh herbs onto our plate. The deconstructed snack was light and summery but lacking in depth.

The food was mildly spiced and mellow, but the beverage menu was bolder. Nightingale 9 offers wine and beer, as well as a trio of lemonades—chile-infused spicy lemonade to thrill anyone who has fond memories of their last Master Cleanse, salty lemonade for those who’ve developed a taste for this Vietnamese specialty, and sweet lemonade for the rest of us. Their michelada, an Asian chile-spiked spin on the Mexican-style beer cocktail, packed so much heat that we could only get halfway through a pint. An inspired and refreshing combination of tamarind, mint, lime and orange bitters was served over ice in a far smaller glass. We wished it came by the pitcher.

Photo Daniel Krieger