Da Nang in Clawson, MI (viet food)
I had seen the signs for this opening a few months ago, but finally saw the neon OPEN sign today. Located at the corner of 14mile and Main st (in Clawson). Its sort of an up and coming intersection of Clawson. Black Lotus, Noble Fish, Royal Kubo, Moose Manoosies (sp?)
Super nice. Clean, simple. spacious. Dark, sorta mood lighting. I'll chalk it up to going there for dinner. Odd choice in music.. I'm not sure how I feel about listening to Pavarotti while I'm trying to wolf down Pho. Exceptionally clean bathrooms.
Expansive. Assorted rolls, standard pho and bun varieties. A few rice dishes. Nothing too far out of left field. Same dishes here you'll find in nearly every Vietnamese restaurant.
Impeccable. Attentive. Friendly. Courteous. Everybody spoke english without a trace of an accent. A maternal-like unit walked around the room talking to everybody. Talking.. literally chatting. You don't see service like that in many places. The food and cleaning was kept moving by a crew of younger kids who were equally pleasant to be around.
I ordered the goi cuon (spring rolls) and Bun Bo Hue (at the recommendation of that nice lady), finished with a desert of che bau mau (three color drink). Lets break it down:
Spring rolls: Big props for being freshly wrapped. The rice wrapper and noodles were still warm and pliable. Indicating that they were indeed wrapped by somebody within the timespan of being ordered. However, its authenticity is suspect. Its not as tragic as when Emeril used carrots (gasp!) in his, but the herbs inside weren't bursting with flavor. The chives didn't announce their presence. Where was the mint? The pork slices were hardly noticeable. I had to peek inside to make sure they were indeed there. One interesting addition were crispy fried onions. Normally seen on other viet dishes such as banh cuon. I had never seen them before in goi cuon. Admittedly, they added a nice texture and flavor layer.
Bun Bo Hue: One of my fav dishes. It should be HOT, complex in nature and simply overwhelm the mouth with flavors. Good things first: HUGE kudos to them for being adventurous. It had the full compliments of meats as its supposed to. Abundant slices of beef flank, cubes of congealed pork blood (yummmy), and two meaty pieces of pork hocks. But as with most vietnamese dishes, its all about the broth. And while decent, its not great. Bun Bo Hue Broth at its best, should be special. First the heat\spice from the chilis bite in, followed by the strong lemongrass, basil and finally a hint of the citrusy lime that you squirted in at the beginning of the meal. All this supported by a rich, hearty broth that can only come from good bones and marrow donating their protein goodness. Watch Anthony Bourdain's recent trip to Vietnam when he visits " The Lunch Lady" for a second opinion! Da Nang's broth, just lacked substance and kick. While authentic enough to pass and still be satisfying, it doesn't save my soul. It felt flat and lifeless on my tongue. The flavors were there but they didn't dance.
Would I eat here again? Depends on the company I keep. Am I dining with somebody who is only moderately adventurous, needs a clean place with ambiance? then sure. Its a good little intro into viet food. somewhere sterile and safe. My clothes came out smelling like... well.. when I walked in! Am I with a foodie who truly enjoys good food regardless of environment? then no. Especially not for $10 a bowl.
And there in lies the problem with Vietnamese food. It almost HAS to be enjoyed in a dirty environment. Squatting along the side of a dusty highway. In a smoky room with crappy Vietnamese Karaoke blaring from some over-trebbled speakers. Wait staff who don't speak english. There's a reason why all vietnamese children were taught to wipe their chopsticks and spoons before using them to consume food. Frou frou straight vietnamese food doesn't exist, and it shouldn't be dragged into this button-down, chino J. Crew setting. Unless you're doing high-end fusion cuisine (read: slanted door, Crustaceans). It just doesn't feel, and most importantly taste right.