.so righteously bookended by the Red Rooster and the Lakeview Lounge.
With my prompting, seven of us went to Hai Yen on Thursday, for the classic Vietnamese banquet dinner, Bo Bay Mon, or "Seven Courses of Beef." I don't believe that Hai Yen requires any advance notice, but I called ahead to give them sufficient notice.
Since we were coming from all points on the map, I suggested that we rendezvous at the Red Rooster before descending, en masse, on Hai Yen.
As Hov' might say about the Rooster, "You gotta throw on your fine linens for this one." The place absolutely reeks of class. This is not some blue collar, "gimme a draft," kind of place. In fact, there are no beer taps to speak of. Its strictly cans. Not really being much of a beer drinker, but wanting to respect the spirit of the place, I pounded a Seven and Seven, and quickly chased it with a Cutty Sark on the rocks. Sufficiently lubricated, and with all now in attendance, we departed for Hai Yen.
Upon arrival at Hai Yen, we were promptly seated at a large round table that had been reserved for our party. As the 'organizer," I was asked if we would prefer nuoc cham or a "more pungent" dipping sauce to accompany our dinner. After asking--and without the blink of an eye--I was assured that both would be provided. [The latter is mam nem, opaque, slightly viscous, and, as the waiter intimated, on the funky side. The most discernable ingredients in a mam nem are fermented anchovy sauce and crushed pineapple.]
The first course to arrive was a warm beef salad. Puffy deep-fried prawn crackers (banh phong tom) were served as an accompaniment. Seven small bowls were also brought to the table for the distribution of nuoc cham. This salad differed from rare beef salad (goi bo) in a couple of ways. First, the meat appeared to have been parboiled, not grilled. Second, the salad was not dressed. It was open to the diner to customize at table.
Next, the table was prepared for our second course, beef fondue (bo nhung dam). A gas burner supporting a small pot of vinegared broth was set in the center of the table. We were delivered two plates of paper-thin, raw beef, two "salad" plates, two plates of assorted pickled and raw vegetables, two plates of pre-moistened rice paper rounds, and a small dish of fried shallot rings (hanh phi).
The protocol: Diners cook beef slices to their liking, then the slices are incorporated into "rollups." A lettuce leaf cradles a round of rice paper, which cradles a slice or two of beef, and any combination of other ingredients that the diner may fancy. The whole thing is rolled up into a rough cylinder and dipped into either nuoc cham or mam nem. Or not. As they say at Outback Steakhouse, "No Rules. Just Right."
The following four beef courses were consolidated on two platters. The lineup: skewered and grilled lemongrass beef (bo nuong xa/thit bo nuong), thinly rolled slices of grilled beef with sesame seeds (bit tet xao me), spiced minced beef rolled in Betel leaves, and then grilled (bo la lot), and lastly, steamed beef meatballs. All of this was accompanied by more prawn crackers. [As with the fondue course, these items can be rolled with the various herbs and raw vegetables and dipped in either sauce. Or not.]
I particularly enjoyed the minced beef/betel leaf rolls. [I never leave Hai Yen without an order...] I could taste cinammon and, what I believe was Five Spice powder. I'm *guessing* that the steamed meatballs were their version of cha dum, Cha dum, or Vietnamese steamed beef pate--traditionally served as a Bo Bay Mon course--usually contains cellophane noodles and cloud ear mushrooms. These "balls" contained cellophane noodles and peas.
The meal concluded with beef congee (chao bo), a thin, bland rice gruel with pieces of finely minced beef cooked in. It brought calm and warmth after the schitzo flavour orgy.
Everyone was quite pleased.
My suggestion to conclude the evening around the corner, at the Lakeview Lounge, was met with little resistance.
Behind the drinks at the Rooster and all the wine consumed at dinner, very little was wrong with the world, from my perspective. I took deep comfort in the fact that the Lakeview Lounge clearly marks (Sharpie) each bottle with drink prices, minimizing the need for hard "math" at such a time. That's the last thing I needed. I was here for the live music. This night's lineup consisted of a guitar player, a very green bass player, and the ever-present Mohawked drummer. No complaints. I mean, this trio accomodated our requests for Elvis Costello (Allison), Fleetwood Mac (Landslide), and Johnny Cash (Ring of Fire), amongst others...
Oh, and we played alot of darts.
I do believe that reserving at Hai Yen made a difference. They were very gracious, very accomodating, and the service was silky smooth. [Look back to GWiv's carping about these same matters. ;)]
The price for the dinner was $12.95 per diner. I'm guessing that it would require a minimum of two diners. Hai Yen serves wine and beer.
Grilled beef patties (chao bo), traditionally served as a Bo Bay Mon course, were conspicuously absent. The sesame beef was the replacement, I guess.
The "salad" plate included lettuce, cilantro, mint, basil, and perilla.
The assorted pickled and raw vegetable plate included pickled carrot shreds, pickled daikon shreds, cucumber strips, bean sprouts, and slices of raw banana.
You may want to forego iced coffee (cafe sua da) after dinner... lest you end up, as I did, shooting pool at The Note until 4a.m... and then having a 5a.m. torta nightcap at Llazo's.