Our recent hipster adventure on 14th Street kicked off with an Uber cab to The Gibson for a few vodka and gin concoctions, some of our choosing and others the bartender’s. We had a great time at the dimly lit speakeasy, slurping down cocktails and vowed we would go again, maybe even sit at the bar and truly be adventurous about our drinks. As it was, the two-hour Gibson stop – their reservations are for a two-hour block only and someone comes by to remind you (politely, of course) as the two hours is coming to a close – was the perfect amount of time for a pre-dinner drink.
Next, we sauntered past the crowds at Marvin, to Hanoi House to check out the 3-month pop up by Maketto’s kitchen. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but at first glance, loved the space, with its combo night club, bar and Asian kitsch.
The menu was a set seven-course street food experience, supplemented by dim sum, which came out on a rolling cart. The food consisted of a mix of what I would call Thai-style dishes (labeled Khmer on the menu) and updates on classic Cantonese dim sum, with a few other pan-Asian dishes thrown in. Taken as a whole, the cuisine was a bit odd because it didn’t quite hold together for me, but I guess that’s what the pop-up is all about, testing concepts and reactions, then compiling that into a new menu …
Individually, some of the dishes were really great. Others we liked as a contemporary take on a classic, but still others just weren’t quite to our taste.
We started with dim sum of clam ceviche which was terrific, tart and pungent, a great mix of textures and flavors. The other was a meatball covered with a sticky-ish rice noodle. This is a twist on a dim sum classic where the rice noodle is wrapped around the filling and usually topped with a sweetish soy sauce. I’d say I like this modern take which created a better balance of the textures.
Our first two small dishes, papaya salad and the pig’s blood cake, also were good. The papaya salad was a spicy concoction with good flavors. The pig’s blood cake – yeah, that sounds nasty, right? – tasted like a slightly gritty and richly flavored pate of sorts. It reminded me a bit of scrapple, that Philadelphia classic, in its richness and texture. Not bad, but not sure I would order that on my own.
Our main type dishes, the coconut fish curry and the stir-fried tofu, were among my favorites. The curry wasn’t too sweet at all, and it was great over the rice that our server brought out to quench any super spicy tastes we couldn’t handle.
Meanwhile, I liked the tofu stir-fry more than G. He thought it was okay, but to me the greens were a fresh addition in terms of both flavor and texture, complementing the rich funkiness of the fermented tofu flavor. Again, though, this is a contemporary take on a Chinese classic, so perhaps I appreciated the update more.
Charcuterie with an Asian twist? Yes, please. I really liked the anise and spice-scented pate and rillette, although I might have preferred a cracker or piece of toasted baguette as the accompaniment. I thought the puffy fried “bread” was good, but not a great pairing.
Of the other plates, we liked the mix of sausages, but we could have passed on dessert. Perhaps it’s just that Asian dessert is, well, it’s an oxymoron. So I’d rather skip it.
And as a final note, the drinks were excellent and a wonderful match with the food. I had a dau phong, which to me tasted like an Asian margarita, but less sweet. Made with peanut rye as a base (but not a brown-colored rye), it was flavored with basil, lime and sriracha, so herby and tart with a tiny kick at the end. I also tried a Vietnamese “export” beer, which was good. Both drinks brought out the flavors of the food, which I guess is the whole point of a street food pop up.
On the whole, very interesting concepts, great drinks, and while some individual dishes might be more of a hit than others, we thought it was all worth checking out. I’m curious to see where the final menu ends up …