Chaîne HistoryOfficers Membership
Events
Société Mondiale Du VinDC Chapter Wine Cellar
Chaîne Websites
Affiliate LinksLibrary Member Sign In User Name

Password

Lost password or
user name?

Le Bailliage du Greater Washington, DC Chapter

Recent Events


Media
Image Gallery - 45 Images
Menu - Adobe PDF PDF 306KB
Invitation - Adobe PDF PDF 357KB

Tasting the Best of Vietnam

March 15, 2018

By William Babash, Vice Chargé de Presse, Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C.

The Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C. enjoyed a wonderful banquet of authentic modern Vietnamese cuisine at Rice Paper – Taste of Vietnam Restaurant at the Eden Center in Falls Church, Virginia on March 15, 2018.

A visit to Rice Paper begins by entering the Eden Center through the elaborate Lion Arch, which honors Vietnamese and Chinese cultures. A pre-1975 South Vietnamese flag flies next to the American flag, marking this as not just an ethnic shopping center, but also as a cultural hub for thousands of immigrants who settled in the Washington area at the end of the Vietnam War and for today's thriving Vietnamese-American community. The Center's clock tower is replica of the one in downtown Saigon, and Tet and Moon Festivals are annual highlights.

Among Eden Center's wide array of Vietnamese restaurants and cafes, Rice Paper stands out. Co-owners (and cousins) Mai Lam and Chef Phuong Ho have been serving authentic, contemporary dishes from across their homeland in their stylish restaurant since September 2011. Washingtonian magazine included it in its 2015 and 2016 list of "100 Very Best Restaurants," and the Bailliage quickly appreciated why.

Chef Ho is originally from Rach Gia, a provincial capital on the eastern coast of the Gulf of Thailand, 160 miles southwest of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). He has always had a passion for food and started cooking at a young age in Vietnam. Upon his arrival in the United States in 2008, he began work in restaurants as he learned about the U.S. and the nuances of how American diners taste food differently than in his homeland.

Chef Ho, Mai, and her mother – also a life-long cook who catered when she was young – knew that the Eden Center was the perfect location to bring the tastes of Vietnam to the region, and together opened Rice Paper in the location that had been Mai's mother's jewelry store.

The restaurant became an instant favorite. With a foundation of family recipes for marinades, soups, and other specialties, the chef elevates every dish, revealing his creativity, innovation, and skill. The result is Chef Ho's own modern interpretation of authentic Vietnamese cuisine that has eager diners lined up out the door waiting for a table most evenings.

Rice Paper welcomed members and guests of the bailliage with a traditional Vietnamese drink of salted plum and club soda, followed by a series of appetizers: Imperial Roll—a crispy blend of marinated shrimp, crab, squid, and scallop served with a sweet and sour sauce; Lemongrass Beef— a succulent ribbon of beef with caramelized edges and distinct smoke and lemongrass notes; Vegetarian Spring Roll—bursting with flavor and nicely accented with sweet chili sauce; and Crispy Sticky Rice— marinated and fried until golden and crunchy, and topped with spicy shredded pork – a dish not usually served in the restaurant and prepared just for the event. All were delicious and built anticipation for the six family-style courses to come.

The meal began with quail, sweetly marinated and roasted until very crisp, served with a lime and black pepper sauce and a watercress salad with a vinaigrette of citrus and a bit of fish sauce. Next diners were invited to make their own summer rolls. A clever container held the dry rice paper wrappers and the water to rehydrate them. Meanwhile platters of perfectly grilled scallops, shrimp, and pork along with steamed rice vermicelli and stalks of mint and basil arrived to fill the rolls. Diners had great fun combining fillings and perfecting their summer roll technique. A bit of Nuac mam sauce – a mix of citrus, fish sauce, sugar, and a bit of hot sauce – added the final touch to complete this classic taste of Vietnam.

The discovery of the range of Vietnamese flavors continued with grilled stuffed grape leaves. This Asian version was filled with tender duck with garlic and spices then grilled, which added wonderful notes of smokiness and char. A sprinkling of fried shallots and chopped peanuts and a citrus and fish sauce dip completed the luscious dark green platter.

A small sample of a durian smoothie followed as the first intermezzo. Inside its spikey exterior, durian is a soft, creamy fruit with a taste that is an odd combination of sweet and savory (and, some would say old gym socks). Durian is the Marmite of the fruit world: some love it, many hate it. But the Chaîne is all about pursuing new tastes, and this was a great opportunity to either discover a new indulgence or confirm the reputation of this notorious fruit.

The fourth course featured a specialty from the south of Vietnam. A large, amazingly crisp crepe of egg, rice flour, and coconut was folded over shrimp, pork, mung beans, onion, and bean sprouts. Nuoc mam added the right amount of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami to accentuate the pop of the beans, crunch of the sprouts, and richness of the crepe.

Next was crispy tofu with lemon grass. The tofu was lightly coated with spices before being quickly fried. The result was a beautifully crispy and flavorful exterior to contrast the silky-smooth tofu interior. Soy and fish sauces with black pepper created the perfect dip for the luxurious cubes.

A small jackfruit smoothie followed as a second intermezzo. Despite its similar appearance, jackfruit is not related to durian. With a flavor between banana and pineapple, it is in the same family as figs and mulberries. It is the largest fruit produced on a tree, with some fruits reaching nearly three feet long and weighing up to 75 pounds.

The final course brought two contrasting flavors to each table. Clay pot-style caramelized catfish was cooked to perfection, moist in a sweet and subtly spicy umami-filled sauce that was delicious with the mild fish. The second traditional clay pot preparation featured seafood and sweet Chinese sausage with vegetables on rice that had wonderfully crisped on the bottom of the pot. Both were fantastic.
Throughout dinner, guests enjoyed a selection of wines from the Bailliage's cellar as well as Saigon beer, imported from Vietnam. This crisp golden lager with hints of lemongrass was a great accompaniment to each of the dishes.

The evening concluded with a tropical dessert – a mélange of coconut, lychee, jackfruit, and durian served with shaved ice in a tall glass was a refreshing and flavorful end to an amazing dinner.

Bailli Judy Mazza thanked Mai Lam for hosting us again – the Bailliage had previously enjoyed dinner at Rice Paper in June 2013 -- and introduced Chef Phuong Ho to the satisfied and appreciative diners. For members who know Vietnamese food, it was a chance to savor the cuisine at its finest. For those for whom true Vietnamese cuisine was new, it was a wonderful exploration of the wide range of flavors and culinary tradition from that country.

The Bailliage next gathers on April 26 at 2941 Restaurant in Fall Church, Virginia. Rather than wine, Chef Bertrand Chemel will pair each course with a complex and nuanced French hard apple or pear cider. Chef Chemel has collaborated with senior sommelier Jonathan Schuyler to craft an exquisite multi-course menu inspired by the ciders and featuring the finest springtime ingredients. This promises to be an event to remember.

Recent Events