Minh-City Cafe

One of my research adventures took place at Cafe Minh. It is located in what used to be Michael’s Mid-City Grill before the storm. When the latter restaurant did not re-open Post-Katrina, Chef Minh Bui decided that it would be a fitting abode for his Cafe Minh.

With his roots in Vietnam, Chef Minh got his New Orleans start cooking at places such as Emeril’s and Commander’s Palace. After mastering his skills, he developed a Vietnamese-French fusion cuisine that contains hints of local Creole cooking. His first restaurant Lemongrass was opened next to Angelo Brocato’s on Carrollton Avenue. A second location of Lemongrass located in the International House hotel was opened, and a third restaurant called 56 Degrees was also opened in the Whitney Hotel. Before Katrina, both the Carrollton location and 56 Degrees closed. After the storm, Chef Minh decided he wanted to return to Mid-City and opened Cafe Minh at its current location.

Cafe Minh fits perfectly in the Restaurant Row even though it is not physically in line with the others. About a block into Canal Street, it is still in close walking distance of the area, however. One thing we can recognize about the Restaurant Row is that even though there may be similar types of food (for instance, Wit’s Inn, Venezia, Theo’s, Papa John’s and Domino’s all have pizza), there is still enough variety throughout the restaurants that they are all able to survive. Among the Asian restaurants, you may find that Little Tokyo, Doson’s Noodle House, Yummy Yummy, and even Cafe Minh have similar items on the menu. Yet because of the creativity of the chefs, the different environments of the restaurants themselves, and the specific cravings of those searching out food, co-existing is not a problem for these places.

Another similarity I have noticed between the Asian restaurants is that the owners or head chefs all learned to cook in their birth countries. This seems to come full circle as they originally learn to cook in the authentic way of their birthplace, then they end up drifting into another type of cuisine (whether it be another Asian cuisine or something completely different), and in the end, they come back to their original style of cooking, adding a bit of their own flair. That little bit of flair and originality is what sets each of these restaurants apart from the other.

During my visit, I discovered that the food at Cafe Minh is excellent, however, when one typically thinks of the item he or she is ordering, one might not get exactly what they are expecting. For instance, when I ordered the fried eggplant, I did not expect it to be topped with mozzarella, on top of tomatoes, on top of a bed of lettuce, on top of toast. It was amazing nonetheless. This is an example of Chef Minh’s genius at work.

For dessert I had the white chocolate raspberry cheesecake, and it was divine. Colorful and divine.

Also, while visiting Cafe Minh, I immediately noticed all of the artwork on the walls. With the high ceilings and ambient lighting, I almost felt that I was in an art gallery for a moment. The bartender even told me that the artwork is rotated by several local artists throughout the year.

When wandering Mid-City and you find yourself wanting something different than the norm, try stopping by Cafe Minh. If anything, the experience is one you’re unlikely to find anywhere else on Restaurant Row.

Doson Delivers

On Thursday of last week, our RRR group met for lunch at Doson Noodle House. While enjoying our meal, I noticed Mr. Ha sneak in with his briefcase. Luckily, this gave me the opportunity to catch him and arrange an interview. When I asked, he said he was free right then and there (which would have been perfect had I not forgotten my notes!) so I decided that I would wing it. Even though I was improvising, I was still able to find out a lot about the history and inner-workings of Doson Noodle House.

Mr. Ha got his first taste of the restaurant business while he was working as a busboy in San Francisco. While there, he met a chef from Shang-Hai who taught him the Chinese style of cooking. In 1978, Mr. Ha moved to New Orleans, and he has been there ever since. In 1997, he opened Chinese’s Chinese on Oak Street. The name eventually changed to Doson Noodle House before the restaurant made its move. One week before Hurricane Katrina, Doson Noodle House’s new location (135 N. Carrollton Ave.) was set to open. After Katrina struck, the restaurant had to be completely redone, yet Mr. Ha says that Doson was the first restaurant to open on N. Carrollton after the storm. He said that there were days when he would open to a line that was at least three blocks long.

When things settled down, Mr. Ha says that he noticed many of his customers from Oak Street had migrated to the new address. I asked him if he knew many of his customers by name, and he said absolutely. He then pointed to several tables in the restaurant explaining who people were, whereabouts they worked, and that many of them frequented Doson’s several times a week for lunch. He also said that I would be surprised by the amount of deliveries the restaurant makes during the week.

While talking with Mr. Ha, I also had to opportunity to take a tour of the kitchen. Everything was spotless and several cooks had their own personal stations. One lady was hand-rolling the spring rolls (which are amazing by the way!) until they looked just right. Another lady was making Pho with fresh ingredients. The walk-in freezer was humongous, and I saw the biggest wok I had ever seen. While touring, Mr. Ha informed me that most of his vegetables come from local farmers and that if he, himself, would not eat something, then he most definitely would not serve it to someone else.

Not wanting to overstay my visit, I thanked Mr. Ha for his hospitality and gave him my business card. I’ve been invited back whenever I wish, and he said next time I’m welcome to talk with some of his regulars if they’re willing. So if you’re a regular to Doson Noodle House, beware! Other photographs and more to come next week.

Yummy Yummy – A Busy Busy Experience

iPhoneUpload-1.jpg image by GambitWeekly

Recently I went to Yummy Yummy for lunch, as well as an attempt at research. Fortunately, I happened to luck out on both. I arrived right at noon which made meeting with the owners absolutely out of the question. Therefore, I decided that I would make observations instead and scribble them down in my handy little notebook.  First, I must say that everything I witnessed was incredible.

When I walked in, I immediately noticed that there was not an empty table in the whole place. It was swarming with people who were eating, talking, and moving about. People were literally waiting in line to go through the buffet with to-go boxes. The buffet line itself was packed and cooks kept appearing from the rear of the restaurant to replenish empty trays of food. Two pretty girls, my age or younger, were mastering the entire restaurant. They would take turns checking out customers at the register, refilling drinks, supplying napkins, clearing tables, etc. And boy were they fast! These girls flipped tables like I have never before seen.

Though the walls were sparsely decorated, the variety of people within seemed to make up for it. I looked around and saw construction workers, business-folk, young people, families; the list could go on. This made me start thinking: Do these people live here or work here? Or perhaps both? Or the opposite: neither? I mulled these ideas about in my head while I stood in line for my own lunch. At $3.50/lb of Chinese food to go, I knew that Yummy Yummy would soon become a favorite. Hopefully, as I get to know the place better, I might be able to answer my question about the people who choose to eat in Mid-City.

Within Reach of Restaurant Row

About two weeks ago I moved to the end of North Carrollton, just beyond our “Restaurant Row.” Even in the short time since then, I have begun to sense the almost gravitational pull that these restaurants have on me. As I pass by this area everyday (often twice a day!), I find myself making plans to eat, eat, and eat some more. And why not, with the variety I have to choose from?

I’ve begun to mentally catalogue a list of meals and where I might get them from. I’ve even put forth the effort to make time for breakfast at Taqueria Guerrero, and I am one of those people who blatantly refuses breakfast. Yummy Yummy has become one of my favorites for on the go, and Angelo Brocato’s is simply great at any time of day!

Fortunately, I have been informed that it is not just I who am tempted by such goodness. Friends of mine from St. Charles to South Carrollton to North Carrollton all seem to enjoy the convenience of having such an array of restaurants. My theory: It’s either a really good thing or a really bad thing to have this much food so easily within reach. For me, it’s the former.