Thursday, June 19, 2008

Disappointment Begets Joy

I exaggerate, but not often. However, after leaving Nine Roses on the West Bank, I could hardly wait to write the review. This food is damn good. Allow me to set the stage.

Peter invited me to lunch with he and the The Folk Singer. The Folk Singer is currently studying for the bar, so despite her best protestations to the contrary, she is not busy. We wanted Vietnamese Po-boys from Pho Tau Bay. However silly us, Pho Tau Bay is not open on Thursdays. We drove around the West Bank looking for Nine Roses. When we found it, the adventure began.

You know how in movies sometimes the soundtrack abruptly ends when the squares walk into the school dance. Well, a similar thing happened when we walked into Nine Roses. All the patrons (mostly Vietnamese, 90% Asian) turned and stared. First rule of dining out, whenever you walk into a spot and you are out of place only two things can happen. One of them is an amazing meal; that is what we got.

We perused the enormous menu. And seemed to settle on a few choices. Peter ordered Spring Rolls, Pork Meatballs, and the Bun Thit Nuong (char-grilled pork over vermicelli noodles). The Folk Singer ordered hot and sour seafood soup and Curry & Coconut Chicken.

Then the server turned to me. I audibled into the Number 9. "You been here before?" our server asked me.


"Well then you can't have that dish. You won't like it."

"Well what is it." My inner child now telling me, "If you dont get the number 9 we are burning this place down."

"Is a rar beef."

"Bring it. I'll eat it."

Rule number 17 in dining out, when the server doesn't think you are legit enough/could be a spy from the FDA/or an undercover investigative reporter from 6 On Your Side and refuses to let you order what you want, its got to be good.

The parade of accessories began pouring out of the kitchen: lettuce, Nuoc Mam Sauce, Peanut Sauce, Rice Paper. Then the spring rolls arrived. Through the paper-thin rice paper you could make out 3 large shrimp resting their plump heads on a bed of mint, vermicelli, and pork. An absolute explosion in your mouth. The mint took that roll over the edge, just a wonderful combination of flavors without being overwhelming.

The Folk Singer received a oversized bowl of soup chock full of U-12 shrimp, octopus, and a little crab. Ooohs and ahhs from her side of the table.

Then came my forbidden order. Tenderloin sliced so thin it made the rice paper look like cardboard. The beef was marinated in lemon juice and set atop thinly sliced onions, mint, and cilantro. The process goes like this. Dip the stiff rice paper in the steaming bowl of water, spoon the raw beef, onions, and grassy delight onto the moist wrapper, drop some Nuoc Mam sauce, roll and enjoy. The acidity of the dressing essentially "cooks" the beef. For lack of a more apt description this is steak ceviche. Don't worry the steak is sliced so thinly any bacteria are chopped in half. And I am no scientist but half a bacteria is harmless.

The taste is indescribable. Sour, salty, crunchy, tender and fresh flavorings dominate. You could eat millions of these Vietnamese Carpaccio Tacos. I stopped at 7. What I really loved is how fresh and clean this taste was without being bland.

Peter's pork meatballs arrived. 6 huge balls of ground pork, that were as light to eat as cotton candy and juicy as can be. Unfortunately, the rest of the food began arriving; we could have fed a platoon.

Peter's chargrilled pork came out. Crunchy exterior with a meltingly tender interior. A nice smoky flavor gave way to porky goodness. The cut of pork remains unknown ( Isuggest something from the belly or shank), but whatever cut it was, this was the essence of pork. Pork, thank God for that invention.

Folk Singer did not really share her curry. I guess she did not get the memo that when you eat with the Blackened Out Crew, the rule is bite, bite, pass. She is a rookie, we allow mistakes.

This meal blew away all our expectations. What began as disappointment became overhwleming joy. I can't claim to be the first food writer (for lack of a better term) to discuss the beauty of Vietnamese Cuisine, and I will not be the last, but this food is so incredibly different from anything you have experienced thus far. And Nine Roses does a hell of a job.

I suspect you will really enjoy your visit there. Just make sure to steer clear of anything that they let you order.



Peter said...

I love all things porcine.

I think this quote from Rene pretty much sums up how we felt after eating at Nine Roses:

"I want to live on a diet of raw beef, pig, and essentially grass shavings. I would only eat whatever the pig or cow would have."

The Folk Singer said...

In my defense, I did offer Rene some Coconut & Curry Chicken but he was too busy lecturing me on the secrets to passing the Louisiana bar ("All you need is the old exam booklet, a notebook and a pen.") and must not have heard...Peter certainly helped himself to the chicken.

All in all, I was honored to join the Blackened Out crew for lunch. And even more honored to provide them transportation to the West Bank....and all over Gretna.

David C. Coons said...

I love the reference to "6 on your side."

Rene said...

Coon Hunter, is that really you? Or did Hittman still your google id again?

Glad to see you could stop working on that RICO case and join us.