Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hanoi Food Challenge #2 - Day Six

 photo HanoiFoodChallengeButton.pngThe storm that showed up Friday night left rain that just kept going, and going, and going. That meant that unlike last weekend, I wasn't going to ride my bike anywhere for the sixth day of my Hanoi Food Challenge Number Two, and didn't really feel like going too far from home. So, finally, it was time to try The Locals.

This place is about two minutes walk from where I live, and I'm going to confess now that I've actually been there before. Back in January, a couple of friends were visiting from Saigon and staying just down the road from me, so we went there for a bottle of wine before going out to dinner elsewhere. We liked the look of it, so, later in the week, when one of those friends was still around, we met there for dinner one night. 

At that time, there were only three main course items on the dinner menu; salmon, ribs, and something else that I can't remember. We ordered the salmon and ribs and shared them, and although the portions were quite small, the food was tasty. We also shared a dessert, which I think was chocolate mousse. The staff was friendly and helpful, and they said that they would be re-doing and expanding the menu very soon, so I said I would come back in a few weeks. I didn't.

Because I'd only been there the one time to eat, and they said they were re-doing the menu, I felt like this was a valid destination for my Hanoi Food Challenge. I think one of the reasons I hadn't been back is that there is a REALLY terrible review on the New Hanoian for it. I know full well to take such things with a grain of salt, but when faced with a decision between somewhere that has such a bad review, and somewhere else that has good ones, well, what would you choose?

There was no one in the place, as is normal just about every time I go by. The staff actually seemed quite surprised to see us. We sat outside on the covered patio, which has a view of the lake behind these bars they've put around the whole thing.

I don't know what happened when they re-did the menu, but now it doesn't seem to have much at all besides drinks, breakfast, soup and salad. Maybe I should've asked if there was another one for lunch and dinner items, but it was almost noon when we went so you'd think they would've given us that one too! 

The drink menu was pretty extensive, and the prices weren't too high, so I would maybe come back here for a nice shake or coffee or something, and maybe a snack. Even so, there are other places on the lake to have such things that actually have views of the lake instead of ugly bars.

Christine ordered the beef stew with red wine, otherwise known in Vietnam as bò sốt vang, and I ordered the french toast again. Christine's meal came at the same time as my mango smoothie, and was a bit on the small side. It also didn't appear to have any wine in it. However, she said it was tasty, if a little bit too fatty and salty. She was quite pleased that the bread was warm and crunchy.

 My french toast came a bit later and was made with a baguette rather than that horrible sliced white bread, although I would still prefer a nice whole wheat. It came with honey, and tasted ok. Nothing special, but nothing exceptionally good or bad about it.

When we finished our meal we sat there for ages, just talking and wondering if we were ever going to see a staff member again. Our dishes were still on the table, and no one came out to clear them or to see if we wanted anything else. We eventually made an effort and got someone's attention enough to pay the bill.

This place makes me sad. You can see from the photos that it's super cute inside, and I actually love the way it's decorated. It has a great location next to the lake, but they put those awful bars up, which block the view completely. The food could use some work, in choice, quality, and portion size, and the staff could use some lessons in service. There is SO much potential here, and it's being wasted. I guess I shouldn't criticize, because I don't know all that much about running a restaurant and I'm sure it's not an easy thing to do, but even I can see how it could be better. It's the kind of place that if I had time and enough experience behind me, I would want to take over and see what I could do with it.

The rain stopped in the afternoon so things had dried up a bit by dinnertime. Christine and I ventured out to Hai Bà Trưng district to go to Thai Elephant. There isn't much good Thai food in Hanoi, and an alternative to Hanoi Panic (now at Madake) in a different part of the city is welcome. This one was recommended to me by a friend, so I figured it had to be good!

The inside, as you'd expect, is decorated with nothing but elephants. Even the toothpick holder that came at the end of our meal was an elephant!

We ordered two starters; glass noodle salad with prawns and squid, and shrimp cakes.

The glass noodle salad was very tasty, although Christine thought perhaps it was a bit too much on the sweet side. I thought it was just fine, but maybe that's my sweet tooth showing itself!

The shrimp cakes were not entirely what we expected, but still very good. Pounded up shrimp coated in a crunchy breadcrumb mixture and dipped in a sweet & sour sauce was absolutely delicious.

We also ordered chicken with Thai basil and chili, and a green curry with prawns.

The chicken dish was a bit weird tasting. We decided in the end that the Thai basil wasn't actually that, but we don't know what it was. I still liked it enough to eat it, despite it not being what I'd expected, but Christine didn't like it at all!

The green curry was delicious. For some reason, no matter how hard I try, I cannot make a green curry like you get in Thailand, so it's often my measure of how good a Thai restaurant is. This one fit the bill perfectly. And the Thai basil in it was really Thai basil!

We finished our meal with some sticky rice with mango. This was good but I actually thought the sticky rice seemed a bit salty in a weird way that I cannot explain. 

Despite a few things that I maybe didn't quite like, I would definitely come back to Thai Elephant when I have a Thai food craving!

One more day! I bet you can't wait to see where I go on Day Seven!

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