By Sascha Brodsky
One of the best Asian restaurants in New York may not be Nobu, that perennial celebrity dining spot, but a Vietnamese place nearby. Mai House is owned by the same people as Nobu and gets less attention but its decisive flavors and warm atmosphere deserve more acclaim.
Nobu’s Drew Nieporent and Bao’s Saigon-born chef Michael Huynh joined forces for this Tribecca eatery. Located in a historic warehouse, Mai House has a casual, light and airy atmosphere with translucent Vietnamese lotus lights and statues of goddesses framing the crushed sunflower seed walls. The friendly and attentive staff serves haute Vietnamese fusion.
On a cold night the perfect starter was clams with Tiger beer broth, the juicy clams enhanced by spikes of chili and garlic. The broth was so good we immediately ladled it onto the rice. Also try the lamb skewers, consisting of tender lamb wrapped around a thick stalk of lemon grass. The beefy Pho with hot sauce, sweet and sour cuttlefish, and the traditional appetizer of hot mushroom spring rolls make for good starter choices as well.
Hungry for more, we proceeded to the wok-seared beef fillet cubes. This seemingly ho-hum dish was enlivened by a nicely balanced blend of garlic, shallots, eggplant and soy sauce.
The entrees include authentic Vietnamese dishes like Lacxa, a thick, curry-like white yam soup with shrimp and fish sauce. The Dungeness crab, rarely featured as an entree, is served in a crab shell filled with chunks of crab meat, glass noodles, king mushrooms and chives in a fish stock. Other exotic entrees on the menu are cubed chicken cooked in a clay pot with whole quail eggs in fish sauce and chicken stock, seasoned with lemongrass and bird’s eye chilis; steamed black cod served with big mushroom; and shark fin consommé.
The menu features an impressive wine list with a selection of international wines at affordable prices, a dozen sakes, and a long list of fruity cocktails with names such as Tiger Tail, Red River, Flyboy, Saigon Sling and Buddha’s Eye.
The dessert menu features an array of sorbets in an assortment of flavors such as avocado/lime, kalamansi and tangerine; panna cotta with curry gelee and black rice pudding; and an almond banana cake with spice ice cream. Refreshing and not overly sweet, these desserts are a harmonious end to the exciting meal.
Wok Seared Beef Filet Cubes
Melted Eggplant, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Garlic and Shallot Confit, Anise Soy Sauce
• 20 oz beef filet cut into cubes
• 1 cup Chanterelle mushrooms
• 1 tbsp shallots, halved
• 1 tbsp garlic whole (about two cloves)
• 1 tbsp butter
• 1 tbsp soy sauce
• 1 cup oil
• Peppercorn, salt, sugar, anise seeds
Shallot Confit: Place shallots and half cup of oil in a heavy-based saucepan. Place the pan over medium heat until the oil becomes hot, then adjust the heat to its lowest possible setting and continue to cook the shallots until they are meltingly tender, about 2 hours. Set aside to cool.
Garlic Confit: Place garlic in a heavy-based saucepan with the remaining oil. Place the pan over medium heat until the oil becomes hot, then adjust the heat to its lowest possible setting and continue to cook the garlic until it’s meltingly tender, about 2 hours. Set aside to cool.
Beef Filet: Heat a wok over medium-high heat and enough oil to coat the pan. When hot, add the beef, searing the cubes. When meat is slightly seared, add the garlic and shallot confits to the pan. Stir the cubes. Season with crushed peppercorn, salt and sugar to taste (about a pinch each) add one tablespoon of soy sauce and cook beef until medium well.
• 4 Japanese eggplants
• 1 tbsp chopped garlic sautéed
• Nuoc Cham drizzle
Roast 4 Japanese eggplants until tender over a grill or gas flame, roast the eggplants until the skin blackens and the flesh is soft. Allow to cool and peel carefully with a small sharp knife to remove all the skin. Sautee 1 tablespoon of garlic. Puree the eggplant with garlic. Finish with a drizzle of nuoc cham sauce.
Nuoc Cham Sauce:
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
• 3 tbsp white sugar
• 2 tbsp lime juice
• 4 tbsp fish sauce
• 1 cup water
In a medium bowl combine the garlic, red pepper flakes, sugar, lime juice, fish sauce and water. Mix all together, adjusting to taste. Plate with melted eggplant in the center of the plate, drizzle cubes of beef around the side and add a splash of nuoc cham for garnish.
Clams With Tiger Beer Broth
(Formerly Clams 33) By Michael Bao Huynh of Mai House
• 1 pound manilla clams
(alternatively 12 cherry stone clams)
• 3 cloves garlic
• 1 bottle Tiger beer
• 1 stalk of lemongrass
• 3 Thai birds eye chili
• Pinch of salt
• 5 Kaffir lime leaves
(alternatively zest of 2 limes)
• 1 tbsp fish sauce
• 1 small shallot, quartered
• 1 tbsp of oil
Crush garlic cloves using the back of a knife. Slice lemongrass and Thai birds eye chili. Sautee the garlic, lemongrass, Thai bird’s eye chili, Kaffir lime leaves, and shallot with oil in a pan. Stir. Add clams on top of sautée mixture then add one bottle of Tiger beer and the tablespoon of fish sauce to the mixture. Season with a pinch of salt and cover the pan with a lid. Cook until the clams open (approximately 2 minutes).