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Discovering Mai House: Myriad’s New Tribeca Eatery


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.

Chef Michael Bao Huynh - click to enlarge
Chef Michael Bao Huynh

Michael (left) with his Mai House team - click to enlarge
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 beers.

“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.

But before 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.

The entrées 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 ginger.

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

Phone: 212-431-0606
Web:  http://

Photographs by Harvey Frommer    

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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. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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