An Open Letter to Mot Hai Ba: The Upcoming East Dallas Vietnamese Restaurant

Categories: Wok the Talk

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These. Are. Delicious.
Dear Mot Hai Ba:

You better bring it. There is a massive hole in Dallas' dining scene that you could exploit, and I know if you do this city will be all the better for it. The announcement of your coming existence in a Culture Map blog post was a welcome one, and your creators, Jeana Johnson and Colleen O'Hare, have blessed Dallas with some great concepts. Good 2 Go Taco is a gift for its East Dallas neighborhood, but this city needs so much more.

Please don't try to fit in. We already have some polished Vietnamese concepts like Malai, Lemongrass and Dalat. These are good restaurants. They have made Vietnamese cuisine more accessible to timid diners who might not otherwise try a new cuisine. They cook well with great ingredients and offer warm welcoming dining rooms that their suburban counterparts sometimes lack. But they also leave much on the table.

I'm concerned about your creators' mention of authenticity, because this is what Dallas needs most.

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Nammi's Vietnamese Food Truck: A Bit Pricey, but Convenience is Key

Categories: Wok the Talk

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Kristy Yang
The Nammi food truck officially got rolling (poor pun intended) last week to much Internet fanfare. Social media was abuzz for the traveling Vietnamese food truck specializing in banh mi and Asian-influenced tacos. I was able to check out the colorful vehicle last Thursday and walked away with a bag of mixed feelings to go along with my subs and tacos.

As gas prices continue to be ridiculous, I'd be dishonest in saying I wasn't personally excited with the prospect of a Vietnamese food truck constantly circling nearby. No more gas-guzzling long drives to Garland or Arlington for a banh mi fix. Then I arrived at the truck and saw the prices.

Seven bucks for a banh mi is steep, no? That was my opinion, but it might not be a problem for everyone. Tacos, however, are a good size and filled with a fair amount of meat for the $3 price tag. My only little gripe about the tacos is the sweet potato. As a sweet potato whore, it pains me to say it, but I didn't see a purpose for them in the taco. They were kind of mushy, adding a strange texture and distracting from the meat and pleasing crunchiness of the cabbage slaw.

Sandwiches and tacos come in barbecued pork, grilled pork, lemongrass chicken, lemongrass beef, and Vietnamese tofu. There is also a deli-style banh mi for the purists out there. For virgin Nammi expedition, I opted for the barbecued pork sandwich, a grilled pork sandwich and a grilled pork taco. All three were fine, but they weren't memorable. The meats were moist enough (considering they were being served from a truck), but they could have both used a more intensive marinating and a deeper flavor profile. The highlights of the sandwiches were in the little details. The pickled carrot and daikon and the deft touch of soy sauce were great. The baguette Nammi uses is nice and thin, but I wish they could have been a little less stale and a bit crunchier.

It was day one for the business, though, and there was a long line, so I find it very difficult to be too harsh. The Texas heat is reason enough to be sympathetic to Nammi. On the day of my visit, there was only one person taking orders at the window and one person in the back assembling tacos and sandwiches for a line of 10-15 strong. I almost wanted to put on an apron and go back there to help.

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Chinese Love Lazy Susan, but I Can't Stand that Worthless Broad

Categories: Wok the Talk

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I'm going to lose some Asian points for this blog, so I'm just going to put it out there: I am not a fan of the lazy Susan. Why this rotating serving contraption was ever considered a good idea is beyond me. What is supposed to bring people together during a meal is actually quite an intimidating apparatus to put into use. Yes, you think I am on crack, and yes, what is now synonymous with banquet style Chinese restaurants and 1970's breakfast table cuisine was actually the brainchild of Thomas Jefferson, but hear me out and then blast off at me in the comments.

  • What exactly is the lazy Susan etiquette? My mom and I are in Hong Kong right now as part of a Vietnamese business tour group. This means I've been eating many of my meals with strangers I just met, and almost every meal has included the lazy Susan. For everyone, this also means many of our meals have started off with awkward trepidation regarding who takes the first stab at the food. Well, almost everyone. My mother -- being the eldest of 10 children -- has no qualms about being the barbarian first to attack. Between stuffing her mouth and hoarding food on MY plate, I could feel the judgmental eyes of eight hungry people on us. "Get a hold of yourself! You're a business woman," was the thought I telepathically shot to my mom. Message not received. We could sit there spinning the round table all day long offering and mock-not accepting, and where would we all be? Hungry.
  • Things will spill. Once a table gets filled up, operating a lazy Susan becomes as delicate a situation as stuffing Kim Kardashian into spandex pants for when she pretends to be going to the gym for the paparazzi. Tea cups, soup bowls, water glasses, soy sauce dishes are all in danger.

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Rolling in Dough at Noodle House

Categories: Wok the Talk

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Photos by Kristy Yang
Noodle House's custom-made dough-roller.
It's 1 p.m. when I receive a phone call from an anxious voice on the other end of the line, asking me where I am. It's Sky Kuo, owner of Plano's Noodle House, and he's wondering if I am still coming by to snap pictures in the restaurant's kitchen. I assure him I am en route and politely recall that our appointment was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Yes, he remembers, but he's got 2,000 more dumplings to make and he'd like to move the process along.

It's an understandable frustration. After all, he's been up since 7 a.m. getting his son ready for school, then making the daily trek from Bedford to Plano to work what will be a 14-hour shift. Normally, it's "only" a 12-hour day for the chef/owner at his restaurant, but today is when the week's dumplings and noodles are made from scratch. It's a twice-a-week ritual and requires all hands on deck. Dads, uncles and staff gather in the kitchen to pour, sift, knead, roll, cut and stuff. By the end of the day, 3,000 dumplings will be made, 200 buns will be formed, and more than 100 pounds of flour will be used for the noodles, alone.

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Noodle House uses more than 100 pounds of flour for a batch of noodles alone.
When I arrived at the restaurant, most of the workers were taking a break while awaiting the blogger to show up before resuming their laborious tasks. Sky greeted me and ushered me directly into the back of the kitchen where his father was kneading thick sheets of dough in a massive rolling machine. Seeing the intimidating apparatus at work, I sheepishly asked how much a machine like this would cost and if this was in all Chinese restaurants' kitchens. He wasn't very put off by my questioning and rather proudly revealed that the rolling and cutting machine is one of a kind and was custom-made in Taiwan for his restaurant. Coming from a lineage of noodle and dumpling makers, Sky knew what type of machinery his restaurant would require and had a factory in his home country build him a contraption that his family had long ago patented.

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Thin sheets of dough are rolled out for noodles and dumpling wrappers.
The back room where the rolling machine is housed is also home to a long stainless steel table and a large sifting/mixing mechanism. Twice a week in this room, Sky's father pours hundreds of pounds of flour into the violently vibrating mixer then patiently watches as the flour blends with just the right amount of water -- as measured by eyeballing perfected by years of experience. He plops the resulting large balls of dough onto the rolling machine to be flattened. After numerous sheets of dough are pressed out, a helper lays the sheets in a tall even stack and uses a circle cutter to slice through the layers. The result is thousands of perfectly round dumpling skins. The extra dough is rolled back up, flattened back out, and used for noodles.


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b.b.bop Rice Bowls: There's Asian Fusion and There's All Over the Asian Map

Categories: Wok the Talk
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Photos by Kristy Yang
Outside b.b.bop's new location at Lovers and Greenville.
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b.b.bop Rice Bowls confuses me. The Carrollton-based restaurant opened a Lovers Lane/Greenville location recently, and several friends on separate occasions suggested I try it.

Admittedly, when I heard about the concept, it was cause for excitement. The restaurant serves up several variations of the Korean dish, bibimbap -- the popular rice, meat, egg, and veggie bowl.

Beyond just my fandom of bibimbap, the website was interesting and helpful. There was nutritional information listed for the restaurants' many dishes. However, upon perusing the website, I saw something peculiar.

Along with bibimbap, the restaurant also serves Vietnamese-style banh mi thit and Thai tom yum soup. It seemed kind of all over the place and a bit ambitious. Would what I imagined as a Korean-style Chipotle be able to pull off such a variety of dishes?

My imagination wasn't far off the mark. When I finally visited the place, it really reminded me of a Korean Chipotle, tacos and all. That's right. b.b.bop also offers up Korean tacos. More on that later.More »

Lemongrass' Take on Asian Defuses
The Dreaded F-Bomb

Categories: Wok the Talk

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Photos by Kristy Yang
Last week, I had the pleasure of being proven wrong. For the majority of my food-seeking life, I've had an aversion to Asian restaurants of the fusion variety. Deep Ellum's Lemongrass restaurant rocked my prejudice to the core.

Wanting to find a satisfying Asian meal without having to drive outside of the city limits, a quick Google search brought up a surprising result. Across the Internet were rave reviews for Lemongrass, a restaurant I had driven by several times but never thought to try. My past glimpses of their online menu may have had something to do with it.

Although owner Khoa Nguyen may fight me over this, traditional Vietnamese is the last thing I would ever label Lemongrass's menu. I've not a fan of the "f" word, and I found it interesting that neither is Mr. Nguyen. While the word "fusion" may not be as vulgar as the other f-bomb, it can be just as damning to Asian traditionalists in search of a legitimate native restaurant.

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Noraebong: East Meets West in Common Love of Bad Singing, Booze

Categories: Wok the Talk

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On a rare night out a few weeks ago, I found myself in a ladies' room, eavesdropping on a conversation between two leggy blondes. They were ready to move on to the next party and were debating the destination. What occurred next left me in momentary shock and made me realize how out of it I really am. Blonde 1 suggested that they continue their evening at what she called "Asian karaoke." Blonde 2 asked, "What's that?" Numero uno blonde explained, "It's, like, karaoke with your own room and stuff. It's sooo much fun." The extra "o's" in "so" must have been convincing enough for her pal, as off they went, journeying to a locale that up to that point, I felt was a well-kept secret in Dallas nightlife.


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Yung Kee BBQ: The Quality Doesn't Quite Match the Huge Quantities

Categories: Wok the Talk

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It's difficult to dine at Yung Kee BBQ and not think about its rival just down the street, the more popular First Chinese BBQ.

This doesn't mean I didn't discover some gems at Yung Kee. The restaurant has its share of worthy mentions, but atmosphere isn't one of them. While First Chinese's exterior veers towards the drab, its interior actually is quite nice and well-kept. The opposite can be said for Yung Kee, seeing as how their outside sign is the prettiest thing about the restaurant. The interior is clean, but it tiptoes around depressing. The thermostat is kept at meat-locker cold, and to find the restroom, one must walk through the kitchen. A door inside the restaurant leads to the neighboring Asian market, which doesn't add much to the ambiance. The barbecued meats display of duck and roasted pork is quite sad-looking, as well, with only a single tiny duck hanging behind the window when we visited.

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Love Hurts: I Luv Pho Puts Our Fondness for "Vietnamese" Food to the Test

Categories: Wok the Talk

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The food at I Luv Pho is enough to break your heart.

There are the blogs I can't wait to write, and there are the blogs I put off until 4:30 on a Monday afternoon, tippy-toeing dangerously close to my deadline. This week's would be the latter.

After being repeatedly hounded by a friend to visit I Luv Pho in Las Colinas, I gave in last week. I Luv Pho is a restaurant I want to like. It's clean. The staff is friendly. There is a mixture of all types of people who eat at the restaurant. But the food, oh dear God, the food...

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Catch the Seoul Train to Fine Food in Korea Town

Categories: Wok the Talk

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Little things mean a lot: Seoul Garden's small plates -- banchan -- are perfect for a big appetite.

It took me a while to warm up to Korean food, to the chagrin of my many Korean friends. For inexplicable reasons, Korean food seemed to me to be the most foreign and odd of Asian cuisine. I suspect it has something to do with its extreme flavor profiles, everything from the marinades to the pickling. An even more embarrassing and less politically correct reason as to why I eschewed the cuisine might shock you readers: I hate the smell of food.

Not the initial "ooh and ahh" scent of food, rather, I dread prolonged exposure to food smells. Blame it on my formative teenage years working long hours at my parents' Chinese restaurant and coming home smelling like a fryer full of egg rolls, or that my parents felt the need to cook all day long when at home, resulting in my fish-sauce perfumed pajamas. Anyone who has ever enjoyed Korean barbecue knows it comes at a cost, specifically dry-cleaning costs, followed by long soapy showers. Albeit incredibly delicious, Korean barbecue is too much of an anxiety-ridden commitment for me to enjoy. This, by no means, connotes an end to my relationship with Korean food. It's quite the opposite. My travels to cities with a large Korean demographic, an obsession with Super H Mart, and most significantly, the spurring on by all my fed-up Korean peeps created a growing curiosity within me. I suddenly had nonstop cravings for Korean food. Being a frequenter of Dallas's Koreatown, I felt resentful if I drove by a restaurant I had yet to try. It was time to call in the reinforcements.

My typical idea of a Korean fix is Carrolton's Super H Mart and its surrounding restaurants, such as Omi or To Dam Gol Tofu House. My Korean and fellow food enthusiast friend Lisa insists, however, that Seoul Garden is the best Korean restaurant in DFW. Although I had yet to try the place, upon Lisa's enthusiastic review, I once suggested the restaurant to a visiting friend from Houston who was searching for Korean barbecue. After dinner with her bosses, she called immediately, profusely thanking me for what they all agreed was one of the best meals of their lives. I couldn't exactly take credit for it. Actually, I was a bit shocked.

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