Monday, April 27, 2009

A Dong's Vietnamese Restaurant

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?


R. Sherman said...

We've got a really large Vietnamese community here, too. In fact, all state court instruction pamphlets for lay people are written in English, Spanish, Bosnian and Vietnamese. Anyway, there are several good Vietnamese restaurants and it's amazing to me how different the various Asian cuisine's are, given that most of the base ingredients are the same.


geri said...

Evan and I were at a Vietnamese resto last week and the "sauce" made the biggest impression on me too. But it was more like an "apple cidery" kind with fish sauce which was a very interesting combination to me since filipino sauces are usually either coconut vinegar with soy sauce or fish sauce. I love to order their pork simmered in shrimp paste with rice. Their soup is pretty good too, even if I am not a soup person. When in Chicago and feel like having Vietnamese try the Tank Noodle place.

Edelweiss Transplanted said...

This area (northern Virginia, outside of DC) also has a huge Vietnamese population. I have eated and loved Vietnamese food since arriving here 25 years ago, and have never encountered that lemon dipping sauce! It sounds absolutely delicious.

Vietnamese is one of the healthiest cuisines in the world, with its emphasis on fresh vegetables and herbs, light flavorful sauces, and lack of grease. The French influence, from their years of occupation, is very pronounced, which makes it friendly even to unadventurous palates.

If you're ever in this area, try Four Sisters (Huong Que) in Falls Church, or Nam Viet in the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington.

Sage said...

I have eaten in a few Vietnamese resturants (mostly in Las Vegas, but also in California and in DC). There are a number of good ones in Vegas--I remember being in one late at night after spending the day in the library researching (I'm not kidding!). I ordered a fish dish that was baked in crockery pot--it was delicious--but the "grandma" was concerned about me eating it and could only say "bones, bones" and insisted she cut the fish up for me so that I wouldn't eat a bone.

The Real Mother Hen said...

I'm drooling now! :)

Murf said...

I don't know if I'd be keen on eating a place with "dong" in the title but it did make me remember Long Duck Dong from the movie 'Sixteen Candles'.

Beau said...

Okay, I'm hungry. WOnderful images... all the asian foods are a delight to experience, and I agree about the spices. Thanks!