After a long day of volunteering at the Big Scoop Festival and then hoofing it over to the Shell for the children’s show, Team Oster was starving. We loaded up the car and started heading towards Saigon Le, our new favorite restaurant (and one reason that my entries here have dwindled).
Warren seemed like he wanted to try some place new, and as we drove down Poplar I remembered that my friend Colleen had mentioned a yummy shrimp dish at Shang Hai. We hadn’t been to Shang Hai in years, so when I suggested it (along with dropping Colleen’s name), Warren made a sharp right turn into their parking lot.
As we were walking in, I started racking my brain to remember the actual name of the dish. Turns out that was unnecessary since Colleen’s husband, Ben, was sitting near the counter reading a book and waiting for his take-out. “What are you doing here?” I asked knowing that he’s usually in the kitchen at Tsunami on Saturday night.
“I decided to take the night off,” he said.
Had we known this, we could have maybe planned to eat dinner together. The monkeys (Satchel, 6, and Jiro, 4) immediately started scanning the restaurant. “Where’s Ian?” they asked hopefully.
“He’s at home,” Ben explained.
Their faces dropped and they pouted for a good, long moment before turning their attention to the wall of candy machines. Between fielding requests for quarters I was able to determine that the shrimp dish was on the Vietnamese menu and was called “Special, crispy, hot, spicy, shrimp.” Ben also recommended the Chicken with sesame seeds for the kids. One look at the Thai menu and I knew I would need to try the Chicken Larb.
“How are the egg rolls?” I asked.
“Kind of greasy,” he said apologetically.
“Perfect!” I said.
Next to Ben were about 5-10 people watching TV and noisily talking. Some of them obviously worked there, others just seemed to be hanging out. There were quite a few kids there too (who helped out). Other than that, the restaurant was mostly empty save for one couple at a table in the back. (Of course one half of the couple happened to be the last guy I dated before marrying Warren, but that’s Memphis!)
We invited Ben to sit with us while he waited for his food. In addition to the items listed above, we ordered Pork Fried Rice, Egg Drop Soup, hot tea, and iced coffee. (I actually ordered Hot & Sour soup too, but it never came, which was fine since we had lots of other things to eat.)
Having Ben with us made the monkeys extra excited and they had to show off for him by refusing to sit still, playing with their silverware, etc. Finally the threat of not getting a quarter at the end of the meal and the arrival of the Egg Drop Soup calmed them down. Usually Satchel eats the soup and Jiro eats the wontons, but suddenly Jiro wanted soup too. It took major negotiations to get Satchel to relinquish some of his and then serious finagling was needed in order to convince Jiro that he had indeed gotten his share. (He is at the stage where an almost full small bowl seems like it contains less than large bowl that is nearly empty.)
Soon our egg rolls, tea and coffee arrived, along with Ben’s take-out, so we said our good-byes. The egg rolls were greasy as promised, and delicious. The monkeys, despite still appearing to be ravenous, did not want to try them. Warren and I were happy to gobble them up ourselves. It was a good thing we did because once the appetizers were gone, we had a long wait before we got anymore food.
“Well, at least this means it will be fresh,” I said optimistically.
Satchel was going into a major slump. (He went from merely flumpy to gasplunkelflunkel in a matter of minutes.) He tried to lie down in Warren’s lap, but Warren was not having that. I offered to let him lay on mine, but Jiro refused to switch places with him.
Forced sit upright in front of an empty plate, Satchel started to lament the fact that he had not been to Target in a really long time. He seemed sad to report that there weren’t even any toys that he wanted at the moment, but it made me quite happy. “I don’t even know what they have anymore,” he sulked, further proving my point that the evil of Target is not just in the buying/inability to say no, but the wanting.
As we were waiting for our food, several people came in to pick up take out, and several others began filling up tables near the crowd in front. It was as if there was a Vietnamese community association meeting going on, which was quite nice. Everyone was very animated and the whole restaurant seemed very homey and welcoming. (Which I would say is the one thing lacking at Saigon Le.)
Our waitress, who checked on us often, was extremely friendly and did her best to engage Satchel and Jiro in conversation. When they wouldn’t respond—they get very shy if spoken to directly—she turned her attention toward me and told me how adorable and well behaved they were!
Once our food arrived, there was very little talking. The Chicken with sesame seeds was just that. The sweet sauce was served on the side and it was the Vietnamese answer to chicken nuggets. The special, crispy, hot, spicy, shrimp was all of those things and more. The larb—ground chicken with garlic, onion, lime juice, and Thai chiles—did not disappoint. The fried rice was a crowd pleaser. We completely stuffed ourselves and still had a mountain of food leftover.
Replenished, the monkeys were back to their old selves. When my ex walked by us on his way out, Warren made sure to let them know that “Mommy used to kiss him” and that “He was one step away from being their daddy.” Both of these news items cracked them up.
When I went to pay the bill, I was a little surprised by the $50.30 grand total. Later Warren pointed out that we ordered way more food than normal, which was true. The fact that I had 2-3 meals worth of leftovers made me feel a little better too. We’ll definitely be back, but we’ll try and control ourselves when ordering!
Believe it or not, in the two hours that we were there, not a single member of Team Oster had to use the facilities. I regret that I am unable to report on their condition.