An Open Letter to Mot Hai Ba: The Upcoming East Dallas Vietnamese Restaurant
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.
In the blog post I just mentioned, Johnson says pho is a breakfast and early lunch dish, and that "no one in Vietnam would eat pho at night." So she's planning on serving pho at lunch but not at dinner, to make it more authentic. I guess that's a form of authenticity. But it's also very tone deaf.
We don't need lunch time only pho; what we need is pho that's cooked with heart. We need broth made from slowly simmered bones and enlivened with garden-fresh aromatics. We need pho with the tendon and tripe and exotic meats that mark the bowls served in Vietnam. We need some up-scale pho that retains its grit -- the bowls that have inspired an entire globe of authentic pho lovers.
We need other authentic dishes too. We need recipes that lean heavily on fish sauce, shrimp paste, chilies and other ingredients that make Vietnamese food truly authentic. We need curries that aren't offered in hotness levels of one through five, but are instead simply spicy, because that's how they're served in Vietnam.
When I talked to the owners of Malai and asked them why their pho had no tendon or tripe, I was told nobody would eat that. The owner of Lemongrass told me the same thing. This is absolutely wrong.
Dallas is ready for something bigger. We are a city that's embraced beef heart paté and restaurants built entirely on nose-to-tail cooking. We devour pudding thickened with pig's blood and eat chicken cartilage at izakayas. We suck the guts out of mudbugs and devour deep-fried shrimp heads whole.
Have you heard of barbacoa? It's made from the collagen-loaded, fatty cheeks of cows and in some instances the entire skull. We devour that shit by the pound and we love it. We're ready for more.
The whole country is starting to look at Dallas right now. We've garnered more national press and more James Beard nominations than we ever have before. It's our turn to shine. But we won't do that by embracing dumbed-down recipes that hide us from the ingredients some think we're afraid of. The "Dallas palate" that we hear so much about has been slowly awakening. I see more and more of it every day.
Give us a restaurant that appeals to these elevated taste buds. We are absolutely ready for it. You can either give us what we need and truly bring us something new to help us move forward, or stay stuck in the past and be left behind.
Sincerely, Scott Reitz Food Critic Guy
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