24.03.2009 75 °F
S. has made many friends in Vietnam and one of the most politically important is Mr. Thai. A delightful and influential gentleman, he has the connections just about anyone would need to do just about anything in Vietnam. Need to start a business? Mr. Thai can arrange to find a place for you. Need a good contractor? He can find the best in the business for you. Need an emergency visa? He’s your man to make the call. With all this amazing clout he has some amazing friends of his own and some of these people own and operate, you guessed it, amazing restaurants. We met Mr. Thai in the early evening at Cinemateque, hoping to coax Gerry and Hung to join us for dinner. Mr. Thai has a friend who is one of the owners of a wonderful restaurant. And not just any Vietnamese food, gourmet Vietnamese food. Viet Kitchen is located at 24C Ba Trieu Street. The storefront is unobtrusive, almost incognito, and the long narrow hall that leads you to the back is all of 5 feet wide and lined with two tops but it opens up into a huge courtyard with many tables. This leads into an indoor area that is sectioned off into smaller rooms. The courtyard seating is covered and light and airy. One would never guess from the outside that this place existed! Hung was able to join us but Gerry had to stay at the cinema- they had a full house for a showing of an Italian mobster film. We settle into a table for four in the outdoor section. Mr. Thai asks us to choose what we would like on the extensive menu. Everything sounds fabulous! We pick a couple dishes and then ask him to pick the remainder as he is far more familiar with the food. He does so and we wait anxiously for the dishes to start to arrive. First a nicely chilled bottle of a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is opened for us then the food appears. Banana blossom chicken salad is the first to arrive: thinly sliced banana blossom with shredded cabbage, shredded blossom, carrot and chicken in a light chili vinaigrette. Next up is Crab in Tamarind. Soft shell crab dipped in a light batter, deep fried and served with a rich and tangy tamarind sauce. This is followed by Than lon cuon dua: grilled pork rolled with coconut dressed in a citrus glaze. We sigh when we see a clay pot arrive at our table, it is Ca Kho To: fish cooked in clay pot or as the French say it: poisson au caramel cuit dans un pot de terre. Chunks of tender fish seared with lemon grass and a hint of cinnamon, this is accompanied by a huge pot of steamed rice. A platter of baked chicken tenderloin in a thick, fragrant lemon sauce with patties of crispy sticky rice was the last dish served. Every flavor was subtle yet intense. Every dish was cooked to perfection. The meal was the best we’ve had in Vietnam. But even a brilliant meal like this is not complete without dessert. The menu offered many selections of che but unfortunately there was none to be had that evening- they sell out fast! So Mr. Thai suggests a famous ice cream place down the street where they offer ice cream bars in a green sticky rice flavor. We are intrigued and walk the short distance to Kem Trang Tien on Pho Trang Tien. This establishment has been around for over 60 years and there is always a crowd outside, everyone eagerly munching on a variety of ice cream bars. We each get one in the green sticky rice flavor and happily walk back to Cinemateque trying to eat the ice cream bars before they melt in the warm evening. Wonderful!
~L & S