A lot of people love Mot Hai Ba, and that’s a good decision. Where we need to evolve though, is beyond calling it a Vietnamese restaurant.
Chef Peja Krstic produces dishes far beyond that, and a plate showing that is one of the new items on his menu as of Oct. 18: a butternut squash “bolognese.”
It’s a hearty dish — it’s a main plate, not a side — that leaves you feeling satisfied and nourished. The shaved white truffle on it makes the whole thing a little more luxurious. And the flavors, savory and just a bit smoky, are just interesting enough to make you want to tell your friends about it. So, friends: Let me tell you more.
Butternut squash is sliced, steamed and pureed — “almost like a tomato paste,” as Krstic says. Vegetables — celery, onions, carrots — are grilled over applewood and charcoal. Scallion oil gets going, the diced vegetables go over that and the sauce that eventually goes over housemade vermicelli noodles starts coming together.
“The butternut squash is also sliced and grilled; that’s our meat in a sense,” Krstic says. “Then all of that is put in a pot, and instead of a wine, we use sake. We have some roasted ginger, that goes in there, bay leaf to give a nice idea in your brain playing like it’s something more savory.”
The dish is completed with a little bit of palm sugar, fish sauce and some leftovers from pho. (Yep: This dish isn’t fully vegetarian. But it’s still full of vegetables and delicious.)
“From the beef pho, we take the fat on top, clarify that and we use that to season our dishes; this is one of those,” he says. “A touch of fat, it just adds a little more flavor.”
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Then come the glorious white truffles. It’s not a dusting, but a generous arrangement of thick slices. The whole plate is $28: That’s not a cheap meal, and it may feel steep for a plate without meat. But again, TRUFFLES. And everything is made in-house.
And while that pho flavor can fit the Vietnamese category, the dish itself doesn’t come out screaming it.
“This is exactly a product of my environment. This dish, it’s something that is very seasonal ... the colors represent the fall,” he says. “It’s just a combination of how I grew up cooking: Italian, French and Asian, so that’s exactly what this is.”
Mot Hai Ba, 6047 Lewis St. (East Dallas), 214-826-0968. Open 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Closed Sunday-Monday.