Décor, presentation and flavor all converged to make this a special meal. I was led upstairs to a lovely room with dark, carved wood, substantial chairs and tables and instruments mounted on the walls. A three-piece band played traditional Vietnamese music, on instruments unlike any I’ve seen or heard in the Western world.
The restaurant is named after a province in central Vietnam with a lot of factories. The menu was long and varied. I looked to my English-speaking waiter for guidance. At the top restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City, the staff speaks solid English. At the top restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City, the prices are also listed in U.S. dollars, not Dong, which says a lot about the clientele at Hoi An and expensive restaurants in the former South Vietnamese capitol. I saw a lot of foreigners. A lot of Japanese tourists. The management at Hoi An and sister restaurant Mandarine advertises in Japanese magazines.
My server brought a dish of kimchi, spicier, crisper and better than any version I’ve ever eaten at any Korean restaurant. There was also a plate of roasted peanuts.
I started with “Hoi An” style spring rolls ($5.90). These were incredibly special: six crispy black sesame studded rice paper wrappings filled with ground shrimp and a tiny bit of pork. They were luscious, good with an orange tinged dipping sauce. Also on the plate was a cyclo carved from carrot, so elaborate it had an axel and working wheels.
My first entrée was Tom Nuang da Chuoi (grilled shrimps in banana leaf, $7.80). These were six grilled yabbies (a shrimp cousin), tails and heads on, legs removed, their abdomens wrapped with rich, smoky bacon. With a squeeze of lime and a dip in a salt and white pepper mix, the shrimp tasted incredible.
My other entrée was Coa chien sot cam (fried chicken with orange sauce, $6.80). These were chunks of pan-fried chicken in a rich, sweet orange reduction. In Vietnam, orange rinds are green, and they rimmed the plate. The chicken was quite tender. The skin could have been crisper, but the flavor was outstanding.
For dessert, the manager let me order off the tasting menu: longan stuffed with lotus seeds ($5.20), served in a martini glass with little globes of ice, the rim sugar-lined, lotus leaves at the base of the glass with steaming chunks of dry ice. A green maraschino cherry was perched on the rim. It was spectacular to look at, and tasty to eat, which I can say of my entire meal.