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Le Bailliage du Greater Washington, DC Chapter

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Summer Begins with a Chaîne on the Edge event at Rice Paper Taste of Vietnam!

June 20, 2013

By Judith Mazza, Vice Chargée de Presse, Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C.

A Chaîne on the Edge event is when the Bailliage of Greater Washington holds a dinner at an authentic ethnic restaurant which does not have the typical ambiance of other fine dining establishments, but whose food is truly extraordinary.  The choice to hold a dinner there is seen as being somewhat adventuresome and “edgy” by our members; ergo the dinner category.   We generally hold one Chaîne on the Edge dinner per year.  Our latest such dinner was in June, 2013, at Rice Paper Taste of Vietnam, located in the Eden Center in Falls Church, Virginia.

Owner Mai Lam and her staff were very excited that we chose their restaurant, as this was the first time they had ever done a private event.  There were so many wonderful dishes to choose from that it took several lunches and one final tasting dinner before we were sure that we made the final selections.  The final tasting dinner was attended by Vice Chargée de Missions Louise Harkavy, Vice Chargée de Presse Judith Mazza, Vice Conseiller Gastronomique Tom Walsh, John Harkavy and Chevalier Allan Kam.

We began the event with Chà Giò which were crispy passed appetizers (two types of crispy spring rolls, Vietnamese shrimp and Rangoon).  In addition, during the reception, we tasted the first of five palate cleaning delicious fruit smoothies -- avocado, jackfruit, soursop, coconut and durian.  We enjoyed having confreres from other Bailliages attend our events.  Specifically, we were delighted to welcome Dame de la Chaîne Carla Tourtellotte and Chevalier Jim Tourtellotte from the Santa Fe Bailliage and also Dame de la Chaîne Kim McFarland from the Beverly Hills Bailliage.

As the reception ended, we took our seats and were presented with Óc Len XàDù’a, snails with cream coconut sauce.  These tiny snails are eaten by both picking them up and sucking the snail from its shell, or by using a toothpick to extract the stubborn ones.  You cannot imagine the fun that everyone had doing this!  This was literally a “finger-lickin” delight and a huge surprise for everyone.  Who thought that the Washington Bailliage would all become “snail suckers?” The coconut sauce is one that any French restaurant would be pleased to serve.

An equally delicious course of Chim Cút Quay, roasted marinated quail layered with lettuce and served with a lime and pepper dipping sauce, followed.  Once again, we found ourselves “playing with our food,” and remarking on how crisp, perfectly cooked and juicy the quail was.

A most delicious Soup Man Cua, white asparagus crab soup was next.  We remarked on the delicate flavors and the amount of lump crab in the broth.  Our next culinary experience was the Bò Nuróng Lá Nho, grilled grape leaves filled with beef, flavored with garlic and spices.  It was so interesting to taste grape leaves infused with a totally different flavor palate than grape leaves in middle-Eastern cuisine.  If stuffed grape leaves were a song, then the Vietnamese variety sings a very different tune from those around the Mediterranean.

One of my personal favorites followed, the Dau Hu Chien Don Xa Ot, spicy crispy tofu with lemongrass.  The soft tofu is cut into cubes, dusted lightly and deep fried.  Crispy on the outside and meltingly tender on the inside, you would think you’re eating small cubes of cheese.  I noticed that every plate was empty after this course was served!

The next course served was Bánh Hòi Con Đìêp & Tôm Nu’o’ng, grilled scallops and shrimp served with delicious fresh leafy herbs and thin rice vermicelli  Accompanying this platter was an interesting serving dish which consisted of dried rice paper rounds standing vertically in one semi-circular section and the other semi-circular section was filled with warm water. You simply dipped the rice paper round into the water and rotated it, and then laid it on your plate; carefully filling it with the other ingredients on the platter, rolling it up while tucking the ends in.  You have just made your own summer roll.  This is then dipped in nuc mon sauce as you take a bite.  The conversation was animated as everyone tried their hand at making one.  I guess we were still not finished with playing with our food!

Next we were treated to a Bánh Xèo, crispy crepe filled with mung bean sprouts, seafood and pork.  A small portion of the crispy crepe is wrapped in fresh cool leaves then dipped in the nuc mon sauce and eaten.  Once again, we had the pleasure of enjoying the marvelous and delicate balance that is found in Vietnamese cuisine of textural contrasts, temperature contrasts and flavor contrasts.

Alas, this wonderful feast was soon to end with the final course of Co’m Tay Càm Đăt Biêt or a combination of seafood with Chinese sweet sausage over rice, served in a searingly hot clay pot, which makes the bottom layer of rice crunchy and chewy.  As full as we were, we couldn’t help but enjoy the complexity of flavors achieved in this dish.  A trio of desserts followed consisting of Xoai Xoi (Mango on Sticky Rice), Banh Flan (Caramel Flan) and Banh Khoai Mi (Baked Cassava Cake), each more satisfying than the last.  In addition, we enjoyed the Vietnamese iced coffee at the end of the evening.

Mai Lam, the owner of Rice Paper, joined Mid-Atlantic Chambellan/Bailli Paul Haar and Vice Chargée de Presse, Judith Mazza who presented her with a Chaîne Plate in honor of the quality of the cuisine we had all experienced.  Chef Phuong Ho emerged from the kitchen to enthusiastic applause and to answer questions from the confreres about how he made some of the wonderful dishes.

The atmosphere throughout the evening was fun, jovial and playful. We all agreed that the food was “Chaîne worthy,” very authentic, and that Rice Paper was a fitting choice for a “Chaîne on the Edge” event.  As we left, we each had the opportunity to take some packed leftovers home, carrying with us memories of a fabulous evening and tastes to enjoy another day.

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