Friday, May 29, 2009

Rediscovering Vietnamese Food

Out of all the Southeast Asian cuisines, Vietnamese food is the one that I am most unfamiliar with. Not that I do not like it. I do enjoy a bowl of pho once in a while. But that’s the thing: I’ve been under the impression that there is not much more to Vietnamese food than pho and fresh spring rolls. Being the carnivorous foodie with a penchant for the rich and calorific, I can only take so much broth and fresh veggies. Therefore, Vietnamese food is usually overshadowed by cheesy Italian food or buttery French food.

I had to put my prejudices aside a few weeks ago when my friend Natasha invited me and Matt to dinner (along with her other friend, David, and our common friend, Paulie) at her spanking-new Vietnamese resto, Aquaknox. This new venture of hers and Chef Danny Vu is all about Contemporary Vietnamese Cuisine.

The chic interiors reflect the cuisine with its elegant lighting, colorful murals and modern furnishings. Aside from the dining area at the ground floor, there are more tables at the mezzanine and a private room that seats twelve comfortably.

Looking through their menu, I was shocked to see their incredibly reasonable prices. The owners admit that it is a common misconception that they are a fine dining restaurant because of their posh setting. Truth is: most of their food is quite affordable. Another thing I noticed is that their dishes have a western twist to them. This is not the place to go to if you are looking for the classical interpretation of Vietnamese cuisine. I’m assuming that being a Vietnamese-American chef, Danny has made his food more accessible to westerners by offering them something that they would recognize, while at the same time infusing the dishes with the usual Vietnamese flavors.

We started our meal with a salad and some appetizers- Natasha’s Prawn and Mango Salad, an assortment of fresh spring rolls (Prawn, Salmon and Chorizo), Fried Shrimp Balls, Crispy Calamari, Crispy Crab Rolls and Chicken Lollipops. The salad was refreshing and flavorful, with just the right amount of sweetness from the mangoes and the savory element from the fried prawns. My favorite spring roll would be the chorizo, while Matt and I agreed that the Salmon was nothing to be excited about. The crispy rolls and the chicken lollipops were winners, and I can imagine those doing well with the after-dinner drinking crowd.

Before the appetizers came, I was sipping on a glass of off-dry German Riesling. In hindsight, I think it would have gone quite well with the seafood appetizers.

The main courses arrived in quick succession, starting with a gorgeous pair of Chef Danny’s Special Crabs. The extra-large one was kept in its shell, while the smaller one was emptied of its contents for easier eating. With an extra charge of P100, they can do this for you with any of their crab dishes. Now, I have no more reason not to eat crabs. The crabs were obviously fresh with the sweet, flaky meat, the garlic a perfect accent to any crab dish.

The other seafood dish was something I saw on their web site and wanted to try- the Jumbo Prawns with Garlic Pasta. They were not kidding about the prawns being jumbo- they were huge! Simply prepared, it was wonderfully accented by the strong garlic flavor of the pasta. Being a garlic and pasta fan, this dish was a hit with me.

To accommodate Matt’s dietary restrictions (he does not eat seafood), we also ordered the Grilled Vietnamese Fivespice Chicken and Shaken Beef. The chicken was just alright for me, but the Shaken Beef was a pleasant surprise. Literally tossed around in a wok with herbs, tomatoes and onions, the beef was perfectly cooked and tender. I can imagine this going well with a fruity zinfandel or shiraz. With these dishes, we ordered more of the Garlic pasta, something everyone obviously cannot get enough of.

Matt had another engagement to attend with his mom, so off he went before desserts came. It was a shame because he missed out on the Caramel Mousse and the gargantuan slice of Chocolate Cake, both of which were pretty good.

As we polished off our bottle of Prosecco, we chatted a bit and had a few laughs, mostly due to Paulie’s antics. It was a good dinner with some new friends and I look forward to hanging out there for after-dinner drinks next time. I have a renewed appreciation for Vietnamese food, and I can imagine my dad and sister, Foxychef, having a field day with their modern Asian cuisine.

Aquaknox Restaurant
800 Arnaiz Ave. (formerly Pasay Rd.)
Makati City
Tel. no. (632) 8943380


MrsLavendula said...

wow! that crab looks delicious!!

Chinkee said...

Hi MrsLavendula! Yes, and it was:-) And I loved it that I did not have to get my hands messy.

Anonymous said...

Hello chinkee,

this is Ariel. we met at Buenisimo. I've posted some notes at WSCP's forum. There's a thread on cheeses, you may want to post there...

Chinkee said...

Hi Ariel! Yes I remember you:-) Thanks for dropping by my blog. Will check out the forum in a bit for sure. Cheese is one of my favorite topics. Hope to see you again very soon...:-)

Ines said...

Tried this place last week and we were very happy (great, fresh food and uber-value for money). Had the fresh spring rolls, five spice chicken and the shaken beef- we also got to sample one of their dry noodle salads. Thing about Vietnamese is that its so light and healthy...and delicious! Can't wait to go back there and try the pho.

Miguel said...

NOw this is a place I'll like...they make 'himay' the crabs for you?? Cool.....

Chinkee said...

Hi Ines! Yes, really great value for money. I just tried the pho and its also very good:-)

Chinkee said...

Hi Mig! Perfect for "matakaw" people like us right? Instant gratification!:-) This is the resto I was telling you about. Maybe we can set something up with Noel and have a wine pairing dinner. They're very lenient with the corkage, so its perfect. Something different, right?:-)