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Dalat's Hunt For Constant Improvement

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Watching Dalat, the subject of this week's review, evolve over the past few months has been a lot of fun. I dropped in for my first visit just before they opened, mostly because I wanted to see what owner Khahn Nguyen had done with the old RedFork space, and also because I was craving a bowl of pho. Initially, I was blown away by the broth in both the chicken and beef versions, but the noodles were way too soft and underwhelming.

Each time I stopped by, though, you could see evidence of Nguyen tinkering with the menu. Some of those changes were for the better; the noodles firmed up considerably, some not so much. The broth fluctuated from fine to super salty and back again across numerous visits. Still, I got the sense that the overall trend was continuous improvement. You could tell Nguyen is busting his ass in the kitchen trying to work through every nuance of every dish.

During my phone interview, I talked to Nguyen about the beef in his vermicelli bowls and spring rolls. The menu described the meat as wok-seared, but what arrived was pale and lifeless, almost like it had been steamed. I asked how the meat was being cooked -- was the pan overcrowded, preventing the meat from searing? No, Nguyen fires each batch to order. We eventually figured that some of the wet seasonings he was using while trying to sear the meat were boiling away, keeping the meat from browning.

The day we were set to print, Nguyen emailed me to tell me he fixed his meat problem. He now sears the meat alone in the pan for a touch before adding his seasonings later, getting the best of both worlds. I obviously wasn't able to check out the beef before print, but I liked that Nguyen was at it again, constantly adjusting, refining and ultimately improving. I'm excited to see what Dalat will be like after a couple more months of Nguyen's work. He told me Asian fusion tacos have just been added to the menu, and a chili that was only served on occasion has now been made a permanent addition to the menu. It sounds like the neighborhood's late-night taco battle is really heating up.

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