The 2010 Vendy Awards, a celebration of New York street food, will be held on September 25 at Governors Island. All proceeds will benefit the Street Vendor Project, an arm of the Urban Justice Center, advocating for the interests of New York street vendors. This year's five finalists will all be on hand to feed the masses and compete for the city's ultimate title in street food. Each day this week, we'll be profiling one of them. Up first, El Rey del Sabor! —The Mgmt.
We first heard about the Bistro Truck when it launched last July. Since then, Moroccan-born Yassir Raouli has developed a regular afternoon crowd in the Union Square vicinity. He now parks on 5th Avenue between 16th and 17th Street everyday except Sunday, from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
If you're a lamb lover, there are plenty of options on this menu, and the one you want the most is the merguez sandwich. The sausage, grilled inside the truck, is really lamby with a nice peppery hit. It's on a French baguette with roasted tomato-caramelized onion charmoula (a term for Moroccan condiments and spice blends) and their floppy french fries, which add a mashed potatoey component to the innards.
Note: the fries by themselves are sad. Not crispy at all, they're flaccid and just dead. You know when fries are just robbed of all fry vitality? But! They're kind of acceptable as potato mush sticks in the sandwich since the baguette supplies the outside crispiness.
This is where we should back up and discuss the chalkboard menu specials. We tried that day's chilled melon soup: basically a savory smoothie in a cup. It tasted like a whole bunch of cantaloupe and mint had just been pulverized up in the blender. Very refreshing with a perfect sweet-sour yin and yang. Moral of the story: explore the chalkboard specials.
Another popular sandwich ("it's our signature," said Yassir) is the Tangier Bocadillos ($6). Mortadella, canned tuna, cheese, a hard-boiled egg, olives, cilantro mayo, and those floppy fries again—it has a lot going on. Despite the mess of fillings, if you closed your eyes you'd probably only detect the tuna and olives, and something vaguely creamy. The poor mortadella gets buried in there! Though tasty, it's a little too busy, and how unfair for the overshadowed mortadella.
The chicken brochette ($5) (brochette is a French term for skewered foods) has a nice charcoaly flavor after sitting on the grill, though the meat is a bit dry. That roasted tomato-caramelized onion charmoula, which shows up again on this French baguette, helps.
And finally, the Marrakech Lamb ($7). This was the first time we'd ever ordered Marrakech Lamb from a truck (exciting stuff!) but oof, it just didn't hit it. Dry and not lamby-intense at all, plus the cous-cous tasted overcooked. A platter of lamb and rice from one of the Midtown street carts would have been more satisfying.
The Salad Nicoise ($5) was another snooze. The tuna was meh, and the bed of greens, boiled potato wedges, tomatoes, hard-boiled egg, and green beans weren't rotten or anything, just not that exciting.
Bistro Truck, if you're listening, you should definitely serve the merguez 'wich at the Vendys.
Vendy Finalist: El Rey del Sabor