Perfection on a PlateDecember 4, 2009
Sometimes a meal comes along so amazing and perfect that you almost don’t want to eat it, knowing that the more of it you eat, the less of it there will be. It’s the culinary catch-22, and unfortunately the only solution is to eat or starve. Most people, when faced with this situation, will choose to eat.
Such was the case last night at Van’s Restaurant, an authentic Vietnamese eatery in Albany. When I say “authentic,” I do mean it. Prior to moving to the Northeast I lived in Orange County, CA, part of which contains the area known as Little Saigon, called such because of the influx of Vietnamese immigrants during and following the Vietnam War. Many of the signs in the numerous strip malls are only in Vietnamese, and the area is teeming with restaurants offering authentic dishes at unbelievably cheap prices. This was my introduction to Vietnamese cuisine, and I fell in love. For those who have not had the pleasure, the flavors and ingredients are somewhat similar to Thai food – basil, cilantro, citrus, noodles, etc; very fresh and flavorful meals. The signature dish is called “phở,” a large soup filled with fresh veggies and herbs and thinly sliced beef. In Little Saigon, a giant bowl would go for around $5, and you’d have plenty leftover. But the dish I became enamored with is thinly sliced grilled pork with fried spring rolls over vermicelli noodles, with fresh herbs, carrots and peanuts, and finished with the traditional nước mắm, a Vietnamese fish sauce. I can’t recall the Vietnamese name for it – I just call it “heaven,” especially after adding the hot chili sauce and sweet Hoisin sauce to it.
After moving to Upstate NY a few years ago, we were surprised to find a few Vietnamese restaurants here, and decided to give one a try – Van’s. The first thing we noticed was the price difference – everything on the menu was about 3 times the price as it was in Little Saigon. But I did notice that they had my favorite dish, so with some skepticism, I ordered it. I took a bite, and nearly fell over in my chair. It was exactly the same as it was 3000 miles away. If anyone can claim that their food is truly authentic, it’s Van’s.
So that’s what I had again last night, and as always, it was perfection on a plate. If the prices were the same as they were back in CA, I’d eat there every week. But I guess eating there a few times a year just makes that food taste even more perfect. What’s your perfect meal?