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Halfway through our spread of Vietnamese small plates last night at the new(ish) Bar Bao on Manhattan’s Upper West Side—including spicy shrimp fried so crisp you could eat the tail and a sweet and tangy beef salad with just enough heat to keep your lips tingling—my friend started to cough.
“I just ate something REALLY hot!” she said. I looked over at the sizzling cast-iron plate of meaty conch studded with whole red chiles. “Did you just eat one of these?” I asked.
Tearing up and barely able to speak, she told me she thought it was sweet red pepper. After downing everyone’s glasses of water on the table, she still could feel the burn. With my chopsticks I passed her the last bite of a refreshingly cool vegetable summer roll. Just as I was about to order her a bowl of rice, the waiter realized what had happened.
“I’ve got just the thing,” he said, and speedily returned with a bowl of strawberry sorbet.
Taste buds intact, we moved onto our main dishes. (The table favorite: A steaming “Mekong Market Clay Pot” full of prawns and moist hunks of fish floating in a richly flavored broth worth drinking straight out the pot.)
After dinner, we luxuriated on the plush banquette while we finished our bottle of a juicy Portuguese red called Periquita (at $30 on the list, it’s a steal). My friend suddenly exclaimed, “Oh no! She ate a chile!” We looked over at one of the women sitting at the table next to us and sure enough, my scarred friend had recognized the signs of chile burn instantly: flared nostrils, tearing red eyes.
Again, the waiter rushed over, rosy-hued sorbet in hand. It was a such nice touch, I thought.