2002 Sawtelle Boulevard (at La Grange)
Los Angeles, CA 90025
So I posted that I had been invited to a ton of outings (ooh, like Paris Hilton when she’s in L.A.) over the holiday weekend – five barbecues, plus countless other, hot, out-on-the-town types of things that only hot young LA hipsters like me do on weekend nights. Oh, to be a socialite with the problem of too many options! *wink*
When it’s all said and done though, it looks like of the five barbecues, I will only have made it to two: Malibu beach on Saturday and only one of the two 'cues on Monday that were scheduled at the exact same time, and I had to go to the one whose invitation I had accepted weeks in advance. Dammit! I always get screwed when I make a commitment! Well, not really. I love Hermosa Beach - from the deck of someone's house!
But the barbecue on Sunday cut dangerously close to club time. That’s right! I said club time. I dissed out on a daytime barbecue so I could spend the required two hours to get ready for clubbing, baby! Actually, I wish I were that shallow, but it's really that the holiday threw me off the calendar completely so I thought Sunday was Saturday. LOL!
Well, spending time to get ready was and absolute waste anyway, because we started and spent most of Sunday evening at this here bar *raising eyebrows* where, let me put it this way, it did not matter how much time I spent getting all dolled up. It didn’t matter how much leg, how much cleavage, how much make-up I put on, unless I have a Y chromosome. ;) Actually, not true. I’m sure there were plenty of Carsons there who would have been “oh, mah gawd!” shocked out of their very fashion forward jeans if I had been dressed in anything less than of-the-moment. Know what I mean? ;)
So Sunday, we decided to take a light, late lunch, as is always the order for pre-party-like-a-rockstar-dom. Something that would fuel us until 5 a.m. (with liquid refreshers along the way of course), but would let us maintain our svelte selves, i.e. no bloating, for the outrageous outfits we would be donning. It could have been sushi, but it’s Sunday and everyone knows you don’t eat sushi on Sunday, silly. We drove slowly up Sawtelle waiting, hoping that inspiration would punch us right square in the gut.
And it did, in the most southeastern Asian way that it could. Hanoi Café – a vietnamese restaurant.
The space where Hanoi Café must be cursed. We went there when it was Buddha’s Dream, a low-end pan-Asian cafe with a giant golden Buddha sitting on a high shelf. We went there when it was whatever it was before Buddha’s Dream – I think it was called Dado, an Italian-ish restaurant. And now, I have just seen that once again, this space has posted a notice of change in ownership. Poor sucker, who doesn’t know that his business is doomed.
I can’t believe, actually, that we chose Hanoi Café, since it is a well-known fact that I am not fond of most of the southeast Asian cuisines like Thai and Vietnamese (ok so I haven't tried any others, LOL!). It's just a combination of flavors that isn't my favorite - cilantro, citrus, and fish sauce. Which totally doesn't explain anything since I love Mexican food (cilantro and citrus), and I love strong fish like anchovies and sardines. Anyway, I guess I could feel it in my bones that if ever I was going to try Hanoi Café, it was now or never.
The inside is the same, structurally, as Buddha’s Dream, less the giant golden Buddha. There’s counter seating toward the back, where a lone diner sits hunched over a bowl of brothy noodles and a newspaper with characters that are unfamiliar to me. I suspect he is one of the servers who has come in for a quick “free” bite before he begins his dinner shift. As much as the space itself is cursed, like the other stores in this plaza, it has large floor to ceiling windows and patio space for seating out front. It’s too hot to sit outside, so we picked a table against the wall, but still near the front windows.
The decor is so plain that it’s pretty much safe to say there is no decor. Tables and chairs are medium brown, somewhat flimsy wood. Each table has a small plate with lots of bottles. I can’t remember them all. Salt and pepper? Sriracha? Chili sauce? And what looks like soy sauce.
Vietnamese food is very buzz worthy right now, but I have not paid much attention to it at all. Low brow chow has banh mi at various joints all over the city and forgive my ignorance, but I do believe that’s a type of sandwich (see, I am so totally ignorant when it comes to this). There is also hipster high brow Vietnamese, with restaurants like Gingergrass and Michelia making their way onto the pages of local restaurant review publications.
But like I said, I have not been paying attention, so the menu is somewhat confusing, though I do understand phô. That’s phô, as in, sounds like you’re about to say the four letter F-word, but stop yourself short of K. Not phô, as in, rhymes with “no.” Though in both instances, that’s pretty much how I feel about it. F**k, no! Phô is what turned me off from Vietnamese food in the first place. Hope that doesn’t offend anyone out there. I just really really really don't like it. Hey, I don't get offended when people think kimchee tastes and smells like *ahem* Yeah, I pretty much have to agree with them on the kimchee, but I still love it ;)
Just to save ourselves (rather, just to save myself) the shock of Vietnamese flavors, we eased into the meal. That, in addition to the fact that we were in pre-rockstar preparations, of course. LOL! To start, we made an order of spring rolls, which can be ordered with any number of fillings like shrimp or vegetables – we chose smoked tofu. As a side note, I still need some enlightenment to the difference between egg rolls, spring rolls, and Imperial rolls. And I know I’ve seen summer rolls somewhere out there, too!
For the main event, we would share bun. I had absolutely no clue what bun was, and to be totally snobbish, I couldn't quite understand the heavy accent in our server’s explanation, either. Yeah yeah...arrogant, America-centric little scumbaguette. He ordered a Vietnamese beer
, but they were out! Okay, Vietnamese restaurant, bring us a Tsing Tao.
The spring rolls were cold, as they should be, but I am quite certain they had been rolled the night before – okay, maybe early in the morning – stored in the refrigerator, then brough straight to our table, still just above 42 degrees. They were stuck together and to the plate – condensation in the fridge, I guess. Nonetheless, we ate them, dunked generously in the accompanying peanut flavored sauce to which I added a heavy dose of chili sauce. I'll just admit it right now. I was only using those spring rolls to eat the sauce.
Bun is basically phô, angel-hair thin rice noodles, but without the broth. There was a deep-fried Imperial roll in the bowl, which we happily munched first, again with the peanutty sauce that came with the spring roll. The small bowl of vinegary syrupy sweet sauce that came with the bun was meant for the Imperial roll, perhaps? I have no idea, but we just dumped it into the bowl - and I have to wonder if the Vietnamese staff there was just cringing at the gross ignorance in how to eat their food. Did I just do the equivalent of squeezing ketchup on top of fettuccine alfredo? Noodles, cilantro, strips of meat, and bean sprouts, and I also added a generous spoonful of chili sauce, and a hard squeeze from the bottle of what I thought was soy sauce.
Not soy sauce! It wasn’t soy sauce! I am known for sniffing before eating, but I didn’t, but holy tastebuds, I should have. If I had, I would have right away picked up the fragrance of fermented fish and very quickly put the bottle back amongst its family of condiments. Someone give me a drag of that Tsing Tao to dilute the fever! There it was - fish sauce. *sigh* I picked out the few unadulterated bean sprouts and noodles, and left the sullied rest of bun to him. He loved it. I guess I just don’t like fish sauce.
Overall, the food at Hanoi Café wasn’t horrible, but I can’t say that I truly enjoyed my light meal there, which ended up being so light it was only an appetizer of a spring roll and few bean sprouts for me. This is one of those cases where perhaps, indeed, I didn’t order the right things. The spring rolls were okay, if not a touch too chilled, but the peanut sauce made up for it. The bun, however? Next time – if ever I get over a second tramuatizing experience with fish sauce, and if it's still Hanoi Café after the change in ownership – next time, I will sniff the condiments first.