Three days later, I would find myself again in our capital city of Des Moines and again in a situation where the person we were talking to suggested we eat around the corner at a Vietnamese restaurant. Although I have eaten at many Asian restaurants and even one Vietnamese one, they weren't my Asian restaurant of choice. This isn't because I've eaten bad food at them because the one time I ate at one in college it was very good but because a buddy that I hung out with in college lived next door to a couple Vietnamese in the married student housing. They were row apartments and all identical so his living room was right next to their kitchen and the walls only went up to the drop ceiling so there was plenty of noise and smell that continually found its way into my buddies apartment. The cooking cabbage like smell that seemed to come from the apartment of the Vietnamese couple all hours of the days just rolled my stomach into knots and still does to this day when I think of Vietnamese food. But we had time to kill and I love trying new foods so we stopped in at A Dong (pronounce A Dom) restaurant on the south side of the historic Sherman Hill district.
It was a very clean restaurant, large with lots of seating, but not decorated much in the traditional Asian way that most are. Soon we were seated and given a menu with hundreds of different things you could order all written in I presume the native language of Vietnam with a number in front and a brief English description in small letters underneath. The guy who recommended the place also recommended the number 25 dish, which is what my wife ordered. I ordered the number 96 and also a number, which I have forgotten for Little Abbey which was a sweet bean and custard like drink with shaved ice since she had been snacking all morning anyway.
My wife's dish, the number 25, was a large bowl of noodles and vegetables with marinated pork. Mine, the number 96, was a plate of vegetables with three different types of pork, I think, prepared in different ways. Both came with a bowl of lemon sauce for dipping. My wife, the Asian who doesn't know how to use chopsticks, was automatically given a pair of chopsticks with her meal and me, who does know how to use chopsticks, was given a fork so we swapped, gave Little Abbey a spoon, and were all soon slurping away.
The food was really good but what blew me away was the lemon dipping sauce. It was very watery in consistency and had a crisp clean taste. But what I really loved was that slow subtle heat that built up in your mouth from the spices. It is a heat that agrees very well and just keeps making you use more and more until you eventually run out of food. I honestly think that I would founder if given that lemon sauce and an unlimited amount of dipping stuff to dip into it. After eating that or the Korean barbeque that I blogged about a few months ago, I can't help but realize that American's have it all wrong when it comes to spicy heat. Our spicy hot food seems applied to the mouth with blunt force and never sits very well. Asian spice, every bit as spicy, comes at you in a much more subtle and more agreeable way. I was in heaven.
After we were done, Little Abbey had mostly just eaten the ice off her drink so Mrs. Abbey and I dug into the custard and sweet bean drink with spoons. Again, the flavors were crisp and yet subtle and just the perfect paring with the lemon dipping sauce. It reminded me a lot of the Filipino halo halo but with custard. I don't know how they can make beans sweet, reminding me a lot of Fruity Pebbles cereal, but it certainly is delicious. Since it is closer around the opposite corner as the Manhattan Deli I blogged about on Friday of last week, I know I won't go to it as often as I would like because probably half the time, I will be a A Dong's restaurant. Again, I will take my camera with me next time. I wonder if they would sell me a bottle or a case of that lemon sauce. Does anyone know what it is called?