Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Vien Dong

Vien Dong
36 N. Cleveland

On Friday night we once again we found ourselves hungry and in search of somewhere good to eat. I decided to let Warren choose since it was technically his birthday weekend. Letting him choose isn't always the best idea. He is a Libra and is not good at making quick decisions.

Exhibit A: He asked me where I wanted to go even though I told him it was his choice. "No Mexican!" he added. "Okay, how about Sekisui?" I said. Sekisui is our fall back.

He thought about that. "Let's get some noodles," he suggested. "Okay," I agreed. He turned to the kids. "Do you want to eat Vietnamese food?"

"NO!" Shouted Satchel. "I want to stay home and eat Ramen."

"You can get noodles at the restaurant," I said. "And you can have fishcake in them!" He'd been fantasizing about fish cake for a couple of days.

"Yay!" he said.

"But I don't want fishcake," Jiro said in a small voice.

"I'll get you some chicken wings," I said.

Another cheer.

As we neared the intersection of Poplar & Cleveland, Warren said, "Saigon Le or Shanghai?" Jiro was in the middle of telling me something, so it took me a minute to say, "Shanghai." I wanted some Thai food!

"We just passed it!" he complained. I pointed out that he could, in fact, turn around, or that I would be happy to go to Saigon Le. (Saigon Le is our second fall back.)

Seeing that he wanted to try something new and exciting, I added, "There's that other Vietnamese place on the other side of Cleveland." (Technically we had also passed Pho Vietnam, rendering it "Not an option.")

He perked up. "Let's do a drive-by," he said excitedly.

We peered in the windows and it looked pretty empty, but not completely empty. It also looked pretty nice. "Let's do it," I said.

The monkeys were both engrossed in a game of who knows what on Jiro's DSi. They asked if they could bring it in and I made an exception. "Only if you don't fight and you turn it off when it is time to eat," I said.

We were greeted by a nice Vietnamese woman when we opened the door and left to our own devices to choose a table. There was a small gathering of people near the front of the restaurant watching a nice flat screen TV, so we opted to sit in a booth on the other side of the restaurant where it would be quiet.

"Do you think this place is bigger than Pho Vietnam?" I asked. "Nah," Warren said. "I think this used to be the old Thai market," I said. It closed awhile ago, obviously, because Warren had no idea what I was talking about. The restaurant was very large and well lit with long fluorescent tubes. Along the back wall was a row of freezers. "Yep, grocery store," I said.

An elderly woman brought us some menus and took our drink orders. I indicated that water was fine and made a motion to show that it would be fine for the monkeys too. Warren asked for hot tea. Then we tackled the menu. It looked pretty basic--pho, vermicelli, etc. I noticed that they didn't have the two things I normally order--vermicelli with egg rolls and lemongrass beef--so I decided to figure out what to order the kids instead. Chicken wings were on the appetizer menu and they had pho with fish cake so they were good to go. I saw something called shredded pork rolls and asked Warren if he wanted to split an order of that. (Insert pork roll joke here.) Then I pointed out that there were bahn mi sandwiches on the menu. Warren went into a quandary. He wanted vermicelli with fried tofu and a bahn mi. I told him we could share.

A young waitress brought out our water and tea. There were only two waters, so I guess my motioning didn't exactly work out like I planned. No worries, they were big enough for us to share. The waitress didn't speak much English at all, so order required lots of pointing at the menu. Warren made a comment about Bubble Tea (aka "Boba Tea") and Jiro immediately piped in with, "I want coconut bubble tea!" So we got one of those too.

The pork rolls came right out. They looked like spring rolls, but were twice a long, and obviously full of shredded pork rather than shrimp. "Wow, they're so big!" I said. (Wink, wink.) Unfortunately, I was not a fan of the shredded pork. Warren tried to tell me that I should have known that the shredded pork would be fuzzy since we'd had it in another form at Pho Vietnam, but I didn't listen.

Next came the boba tea, which was delicious. Soon we were all fighting over it. When the waitress brought out the piping hot, but not spicy, chicken wings, I ordered a second boba tea. The chicken wings were oddly shaped, but the monkeys didn't seem to mind. They dug right in.

Soon after we had the bahn mi, the tofu vermicelli, and Satchel's pho. Unfortunately the latter had chicken and not fish cake, like we'd ordered. He moped until I got the waitress back over. She had no idea what I was saying. I asked for a menu and was able to work it out. She apologized for not getting it right and had a look of "what now?" I asked her to bring a side of fish cake to put in the soup and all was well. The pho came with a side of noodles and we ordered a side of rice, so there was definitely plenty for everyone to eat.

I have to say that overall I was underwhelmed. I missed my usual dishes and wasn't too interested in anything but the bubble tea. Warren however thought the bahn mi was above par, mostly due to the fresh bread, and went so far as to eat a second one! he also noted that he thought the fish sauce was homemade. He was quite pleased. The kids happily ate their food and would have had another order of chicken wings had I let them.

When I went up to pay, I noticed a plate of sticky buns by the register. Since I hadn't really enjoyed my dinner, I was still on the lookout for something tasty. I asked what was inside and the woman behind the counter had a young man come over and tell me. (He looked like a boyfriend of one of the waitresses, maybe. He was there watching TV.) He told me that it had spicy pork and a little egg inside. It sounded like something Warren might like, so I bought one. (This brought our dinner total up to $40 plus tip.) The woman cut it into four piece and I happily took it to the table. All three boys looked at me, looked at the sticky bun, and said, "I'm not hungry."

I really think that they weren't hungry, but it did look a little weird inside (see picture). The small egg is definitely a quail's egg. It's still in our refrigerator. I may eat it...someday.

1 comment:

Iron Chef Mikimoto said...

The "shredded pork" is definitely not what Memphians are used to, but more like julienned souse with a breadcrumby coating.

I would recommend this place if you like a "traditional" banh my or enjoy bubble tea. For pho or vermicelli, I recommend going around the corner.

Also, the place has as much ambiance as a grocery loading dock.

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