Nearly 32 years after the fall of Saigon, Vietnam is a hot tourist
destination. Important enough to warrant a presidential visit, be a
player in the global economy game, and promote its intriguing
culture to a curious world. But one need not cross the seas, only
the East or Hudson River –– that is, if you’re not Manhattan already
-- to experience authentic Vietnamese cuisine at the Myriad
Restaurant Group’s newest dining room: Mai House.
Its chef, Michael Bao Huynh – who came to the United States as one
of the “boat peopl during a sadder time in Vietnam’s history --
conveys an aura of unhurried serenity that defies his many
accomplishments. He is an architect as well as a chef and together
with Glen M. Jones has designed an interior where the
4,500-square-foot Industrial Age Tribeca warehouse recedes into the
background as the manifold mysteries of the Orient assume the
foreground. The spell is cast at the very entrance by a long bamboo
bar that looks across to hand-carved screens of pinewood and
rosewood. Panels of crushed sunflower seeds, mother-of-pearl,
luxurious silks folded to look like abstract flowers cover dining
room walls. Niches are filled with Buddha-type statues. Lighting
fixtures dropped from the high ceiling suggest lotus blossoms
suspended in space. The evocation of the East continues down to the
smallest details in lacquered black and red napkin rings and
chopsticks made of mother-of-pearl.
Michael Bao Huynh
Michael (left) with his Mai House team
In comfortable zebra-wood banquettes before uncovered
tables, diners study a list of mixed drinks, exotic and potent
combinations Michael and his staff have dreamed up, among them: “Saigon
Sling” (gin, cherry heering, lychee nuts, kalamanzi honey and lime
juice), Buddha’s Eye (gin, honeydew water and Thai basil), Red River (Absolut
ruby red, hibiscus, and gin), and Jito (African rum, lemongrass, kaffir
lime and curry leaves). There is also a generous variety of sakes and
“Vietnamese cuisine can be traditional or
contemporary,” Michael says. “Here we are more contemporary but always
authentic. Whatever ingredients I need for authentic Vietnamese dishes I
can find here in America.” Among them are lemongrass, coconut milk,
curry, and the aromatic lime leaf kaffir. Combined with lemongrass in
the duck entrée, it releases a blissful fragrance and refreshing
citrus-like taste that make for one delectable dish.
considering entrées, there is a selection of make-your-own-rolls using
lettuce leaves or fried rice paper to wrap a combination of hot
chanterelle, porcini and shitake mushrooms; or shrimp, vermicelli and
herbs; or jicama (a white root vegetable similar to a water chestnut),
tofu, and vermicelli served with grainy carrots, slivers of fresh
vegetables, and daikon – the white sweet Oriental radish on the side.
Other excellent starters are crunchy frogs’ legs that come with a
dipping sauce that surprisingly combines jalapeno and aioli; duck leg
confit with green mango and pickled lemongrass in a pomegranate
dressing; clams in a beer broth; scallops in a curry broth.
include red snapper, filleted, cubed and deep fried with tomatoes and
pineapple -- a gorgeous presentation and vividly sweet and sour combo;
king prawn with shrimp noodles in a spicy curry broth; and black cod
steamed in a savory broth of sea cucumber, king mushrooms and crispy
|Side dishes include fried rice selections
(with duck confit or egg and Chinese sausage), stir-fry Saigon
noodles, sticky rice, eggplant cooked in coconut milk, and
jasmine rice. An ambitious menu, varied and novel. One leaves
wanting to return to repeat the pleasures of this first visit
and to taste tempting selections not tried this time around.
“Vietnamese food has a lot of dimensions and a lot of
surprises,” says Tracy Nieporent, Myriad’s marketing director. “Many
people in the United States have not been exposed to it in any great
depth. There is a sense of discovery about it.” Mai House, it
would seem, is the right place to discover it.
Mai House Vietnamese Restaurant
186 Franklin Street
New York, NY 10013
# # #
About the Authors: Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband
team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional
scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories
It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in
America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in
Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.
They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining
as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United
States, Europe, and the Caribbean.
about these authors.
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This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer. All rights