Angela had her birthday on Saturday and, as is the apparent custom for us now, we headed down to Crown Street for a nice dinner. On my birthday, Angela took me to a nice French Bistro called Tabou which was very quaint and the food was fantastic. The bar had been set.
After bugging Angela for a few weeks about where she might like to celebrate, she finally relented and gave me a few options. One of them was a restaurant that we’ve heard lots about, but have yet to go to. So I called up last week and made a reservation for two at Red Lantern. It’s a rather high end Vietnamese restaurant and it lived up to its reputation.
I had called last Monday, when the restaurant was closed, and left a message. I got a call on Tuesday afternoon from the host, Drew, and he said he had two tables left. One outside and one inside near the kitchen. The weather in Sydney has been pretty cool, so I wasn’t sure which to go with. Outside would be quite romantic, but could be a disaster if it was rainy and cold. Inside would be a safe bet, but we may have been disappointed by the lack of ambiance. Drew assured me that the outside table would be better, regardless. And on Saturday morning I got a confirmation call, again from Drew, and we were set for 7:00 that evening.
Angela and I decided to walk down to the restaurant and gave ourselves half an hour to get there. After a bit of a late start we made our way to Crown. It was easy from where we used to live, as it was pretty much a straight shot south. Where we live now, we had to cut across some of the downtown. We hadn’t anticipated that the new route would take us almost exclusively uphill for the first half of our walk. although it was blustery, cold and a bit rainy, we worked up a sweat getting there. I thought we might be late, but we made it just a few minutes past 7:00. We walked up and I said my name. The gentleman at the top of the steps gave me a cool look and said:
Waiter: We don’t have anything until 10:00, you can leave your name.
Waiter: You need a reservation to sit tonight.
Me: But I have a reservation.
Waiter: Cool look in his eye as he glances over the booking chart What was the name?
Waiter: After realizing that I do indeed have a reservation Oh! So good to have you join us, Mr. Folger.
Me: Yikes. I thought you were just having me on.
Waiter: Please, don’t waste a minute on the stairs…
So, what started as a heart-stopping dialog, quickly turned into a pleasant misunderstanding and we were shown our seats. Although the table was outside under a plastic awning and nestled between the waiter’s station and the host podium, it was comfortable and perfect for people watching.
We quickly ordered a bottle of the 2004 St Hallett ‘Faith’ Shiraz from the Barossa Valley here in Australia. It was an exceptional wine and complemented the meal quite well. We’ve had nothing but good experience with the Red’s from the Barossa Valley, and will have to make a special wine tasting trip down there soon.
We perused the menu for a few minutes and, although having some idea on what was reviewed as tasty, decided to mix and match from what we had heard was good and what looked wonderful from just the description. After some deliberation, we began with an entree of Muc Rang Muoi, which consists of squid that has been battered in chili and salt.
Muc Rang Muoi, lightly battered chili salted squid
It was very nicely prepared, not overly salty, but the only hint of chili was the small red hoops sprinkled in as a garnish. It was served with a something like a lemon/garlic dipping sauce that was on the verge of being too bitter, but was a nice contrast to the saltiness, when used in moderation.
We tried to not fill up on the Salted Squid before our mains arrived. We had decided on the shallow fried Whole Snapper with fish sauce, lime and ginger. The presentation was beautiful and the fish was both moist and crispy. I had some difficulty in un-marrying the meat from the bone, before Angela suggested working down from the spine. Problem solved and we were quickly enjoying the peppery and slightly sweet taste of the fish. It was extremely well done, although I think we both wished that the sauce had been incorporated more into the fish. As it was, the tangy and spicy sauce was a finish on the plate and did not work into the fish that much. I think the problem is that you can’t have your cake and eat it too – either the fish was wonderfully crispy, or it was tastily covered in spicy sauce. Regardless, it was something to definitely have again.
Ca Chien Don, Whole Snapper shallow fried, and finished with fish sauce, lime and ginger
Along with the fish we had order something that just looked great from the description on the menu. Nestled in a large lettuce leaf was a generous serving of Bo Luc Lac, or Cubed Black Angus Rump. It was tossed in a flaming wok with garlic, sesame and black pepper. This main was served with a portion of red rice that worked with the robust beef very well. The cubes of steak were marinated and cooked perfectly. Very succulent and flavorful.
Bo Luc Lac, Cubed Black Angus rump tossed in a flaming wok with garlic, sesame and black pepper. Served with red rice.
The service was very good and Angela and I were having a wonderful time. We were amazed at how many people were being turned away, especially since the evening wasn’t very conducive to being out. We also had a great view of the lower porch and all the interesting dishes that people were getting. We will definitely have to go back again to explore some more of the menu.
Angela enjoying some of the Snapper
After a satisfying meal, we toyed with idea of passing on dessert, but you only live once, eh? Angela had her heart set on getting some black sticky rice, a favorite for both of us. But the waiter suggested a dish of ice creams that sounded wonderful too. We ordered a glass of desert wine (a 2004 Yering Station Late Harvest Pinot Gris, from the Hunter Valley) and a glass of Vietnamese Coffee and debated which dessert to go with. When the waiter returned we did the easy thing and ordered both. Glad we did, as the sticky rice was more of a porridge. Although the rice dish was really good, it wasn’t the dish that Angela liked the most. The ice cream arrived as well and was made up of a scoop each of four different, but highly complementing flavors – Sesame, Passion fruit, Lychee & Rose Petal, and Coconut. Even though we were stuffed to the gills, we had no trouble finishing off both desserts.
Tropical fruit ice creams, with Sesame, Passion fruit, Lychee & Rose Petal, and Coconut
Vietnamese Coffee, sits above a layer of sweetened condensed milk
Since we were relaxed and sated from an excellent meal, we decided to walk home. It had been three hours since we arrived and the rain had turned to a cool drizzle. With arms wrapped around each other and an umbrella shared between us, we sauntered back to our flat. I had decided to get Angela some small token gifts, as the “big” gift is to be some pearl earrings she has wanted. I had purchased some assorted kitchen stuffs, one of which was longer than the box I had to include things. With a flash of inspiration, I hid the offending appendage with an homage to the christmas “cracker”. Problem solved!
Happy Birthday Angela!