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Friday, March 23, 2012

Vietnam Cafe(on Campbell)

So you guys remember how my buddy Buddha knows all the best restaurants in KC? Like, ALL of them? Yeah, he's like my little GPS of awesome eats. Only I'm pretty sure he wouldn't fit on my dashboard. Fortunately, he's a phone call or text or Facebook chat/comment away from grabbing some eats together. I really love having friends like that. Especially solid friends like him. (PS he's been bugging me like CRAZY to get this blog up, so here we go!)

So the last time I went out to lunch with him was a long time ago at Po's Dumpling Bar. If you guys don't remember, I blogged about it here. Anyway, it had been way too long and he was Facebooking about how he wanted to go out and eat something, but it was depressing to eat alone. (And he's right. It's unhealthy to eat alone.) So I commented on his post saying "Alright, alright - you've twisted my arm. Where are we going?"

"You like Vietnamese?"

"Sure! Haven't had a good Pho in awhile."

"I know the perfect place. Text me when you're on your way."

Keep in mind this was done via Facebook comments. I was in class at the time so as soon as I left I gave him a buzz and he had me look up Vietnam Cafe in the River Market area on my Android Urbanspoon App. I got a little lost getting there, but you know me - I have this silly notion that city planners should have an actual plan when they build a giant metropolis...and when they don't I get turned around. Also, Google Navigate sucks. Protip: Stick to Google Maps and just glance at it when you're at a stoplight rather than listening to that stupid voice.
Vietnam Cafe on Urbanspoon

Anyway, I get to Vietnam Cafe and Buddha's already there.

"Hey, have trouble finding the place?" he asked, holding the door open for me.

"Dude Google Navigate freakin' sucks. I need to be back where there are mountains."


"In Tucson, the four mountain ranges were a perfect North, South, East, and West. It was pretty much impossible for me to get lost. Did you know that Kansas is literally flatter than a pancake? Some scientist actually proved it."


True story. Anyway.

A field guide to Vietnamese food for the n00bs
The place was totally crowded, which was a good sign. The place was also inhabited by mostly Vietnamese people - which is another good sign. And ohmigosh it smelled so good. Another thing I noticed about the place was the art on the wall - beautiful panels of pearl inlay on wood. I can't describe it, so you'll just have to go see it.

When we sat down, the waitress came and took our drink orders and she actually recognized Buddha, since he'd been there so often(I guess). He told me to get crab rangoon since it was probably the best he's had in a long time. I ordered an iced tea to drink, but he ordered an iced coffee. (For those of you who don't know, I am a coffee addict.) When I heard this, I said "You know what? I'll take an iced coffee too."

When the waitress left, Buddha turned to me and said "Have you ever had Vietnamese coffee before?"

"No, why?" I said.

Yeah. Drip down you bitter little Tart. Get all steamy in that cup for Momma.
"Oh my God, you're in for a treat. It's like a French press that is operated by gravity. It drips down into sweetened condensed milk, and when its done you stir it up and pour it over the ice in the cup they'll give you."

"Is the coffee strong? I like my coffee strong."

"You'll see." His evil laugh said that it was.

When the coffee came, it was in a weird little machina-cup that was, indeed, its own little French press. The smell was incredible - like what coffee could be if only given the chance. I wanted to try some, but Buddha said wait until all the coffee was done dripping down over the milk. It was pretty torturous, pretending to pay attention to our conversation while watching that delicious, dark and bitter liquid drip sensuously down and splash into the shiny white milk below. It made such beautiful layers that I wanted to paint it. If I had seen it in black and white, I would have wept to a solemn French piano concerto playing in the background. (You guys have seen "American Beauty", right?)

I ordered the Pho - which is a traditional(pretty much National) dish of Vietnam. From what I remember in Asian cuisine, Pho is kind of like the awesome Vietnamese breakfast food. It's basically this amazing broth made with anise and oxtail and noodles. The beef is raw, but sliced so thin that when the hot broth hits it, it cooks it on the spot. It's also served with the garnish plate of lime slices, basil leaves, bean sprouts, and hot chili peppers to add at your own discretion. I don't remember what Buddha ordered(or at least the name of it), but it was delicious. We also ordered the crab rangoon, which was - by far - the best crab rangoon I have ever had in my life. And that's 24 years of being Asian(sorta)!


Not only was the cream cheese filling creamy and cheesey, but there was hunks of real crab meat in there. And see how they're not quite uniform? It's because they make their own wonton dough, and they make these fresh to order. I know that it's a rule in school to follow uniformity and consistency in professional kitchens, but these were so perfect in their own uniqueness, so poetic with their own wabi-sabi that one cannot help but love them.

Not long after we had our crab rangoon, the food came. I was super-hungry, and had ordered the Pho with all the different kinds of meat in it. It came with its garnish plate of veggies too, of course, but each one of the meats were so different in flavor and texture, it was like someone painting a picture, or notes on a piano's keyboard harmonizing to create a melody. The aromatic broth, the cool and crisp vegetables, the tender meats...all dancing on the steam that rose from the bowl, like a phoenix rising from its ashes. It was like color I could hear. Sound I could touch. Not gonna lie, it kind of rocked my world.
(insert witty caption message here)
Remember that Vietnamese coffee I had mentioned earlier? Well, after my sensory overload and lovely meal with Buddha, he said that the coffee was ready. When I looked, all of the coffee grounds had been pressed out of their water by the gravity of the little metal 'cap' the cup was wearing. We stirred our cups respectively and poured it over the ice, looking like a snow-pocalypse of Starbucks-crushing power. I will now leave you with this metaphor of how I reacted to the Vietnamese coffee experience.

Only without the insane tab and the pants-crapping. I was fortunate in that it waited til I got home. 

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