Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Ba Noi's, the Fresh Flavors of Vietnam

I was a Japanese in my past life. I'm not sure if I was one of the soldiers sent here to the Philippines during the war or I existed earlier than that. It's difficult to say because my only proof that I was a Japanese is my love for Japanese food. I love telling this to my friends whenever we would eat in Japanese restaurants. They would always ask me questions like "where you in Pearl Harbor?", "where you an emperor or a slave?" One time, somebody asked what I was before I became Japanese. I said I didn't know. I said I was probably a relatively new soul. But last week I learned what I was before I became Japanese. I was a Vietnamese. No, I didn't go to a fortune teller or a person who does hypnosis. I found that out when I ate at a Vietnamese restaurant in Makati. You see, I never thought that I would like Vietnamese food. I have eaten in restaurants offering Vietnamese food in the past but I never liked it the way I did at Ba Noi's.

Ba Noi's, the fresh flavors of Vietnam. Ba Noi's mean (1) grandmother on the father's side and (2) a culinary experience that brings together authentic and traditional processes, ingredients and recipes from Vietnamese cuisine.

Upon entering the restaurant, you would already feel a Vietnamese-y ambiance. Well, I've never been to Vietnam so I wouldn't know for sure if it really has a Vietnam feel but the point is, I knew at once that there is something different about the place. It is nothing like the ones I've visited in the past. The place has the scent of an herb. Was it mint? Maybe it's mint. The tables are black -- some with white ceramic plates and chopsticks already set -- they also have spoon and fork in place so those who do not use chopsticks will not have to ask. On the walls hang paintings depicting scenes from Vietnam. The painting closest to our table was one showing their primary mode of transportation there which is the bike. The ladies serving food are wearing Vietnamese costume. It think Ao Tu Than is what its called. It looks like the Chinese cheongsam.

The black wooden tables and the paintings on the wall
The white ceramic plates provide good contrast to the dark tables
This is one of the paintings at Ba Noi's

The ladies wearing Vietnamese costumes are the waitresses.

As soon as we were seated we were given a plate of 'kropek'. I apologize for not asking the waitress how they call it. I just realized I didn't ask how they call 'kropek' now. Anyway, what I remember is that the waitress knew what I meant when I asked for a refill of 'kropek'. Yes, you can get a refill. In fact we had a total of three servings. That should tell you already how yummy it is. You really do not need any dip for it because it already tastes great but if you like one, you can use the sauce they put for the Shrimp and Pomelo Salad (Goi Buoi Tom Thit) which I will describe later.

We ordered fresh spring rolls for appetizer. Not that we really needed one but...Anyway, it doesn't really look appetizing when you look at it at first. It's a 'roll' wrapped in a colorless - or should I say translucent - wrapper. There is nothing inside the roll except for rice noodles. It really looked bland to me. But the thing is, it is served with a brown sauce which i later found out is peanut - caramel sauce. The dip is not described in the menu but it tasted good so I asked the waitress what it is. I knew peanut was the main ingredient but I had to ask how they made it sweet. It is really that peanut - caramel sauce that gave taste to the spring rolls. It is also that sauce that makes it different from all other spring rolls around.

Fresh spring rolls with peanut - caramel sauce
Up close

What's inside the roll

We also ordered Shrimp and Pomelo Salad (Goi Buoi Tom Thit) . It was actually my friend's idea to order it. I'm not so into salads and pomelo is not one of my favorite fruits. The Shrimp and Pomelo Salad looked simple. Some greens were spread on a plate. Slices of pomelo were placed in the middle and they were topped with shrimp halves. The Salad comes with a vinegar sauce (this is the one was saying above). Its not like your ordinary vinaigrette  sauce. It's made of vinegar, chili and a secret ingredient to make it sweet. I actually found out what that secret ingredient is but I'm not gonna tell you - wink! That secret ingredient is actually what makes it different from the rest -- plus of course the absence of oil which is part of the basic vinaigrette sauce. The overall taste is great. Very flavorful. I was expecting the salad to  be sour but it was actually sweet. It has that sour taste also but not too much. Just a bit of it actually. Just to prove that the salad is great, we ordered another plate after finishing the first.

Shrimp and Pomelo Salad
It's served with 'kropek' on the side.

We also ordered Stir-fried Honey Spiced Beef with Fried Basil or Bo Luc Lac. It looks like beef salpicao but tastes better. The meat is tender and juicy. It was cooked well. The use of the term 'spiced' is correct -- better than using 'spicy'. Though there's chili, it wasn't so spicy.

Stir-fried Honey Spiced Beef with Fried Basil

They also have their own version of the Philippine Chicken Barbecue/Inasal/Inihaw -- the Lemongrass Chicken (I didn't get the Vietnamese translation). It looks like your regular grilled chicken. However, the mixture of herbs made it taste more special. The lemongrass gave it a distinct taste that leaves you wanting for more.

Lemongrass Chicken

Lastly, we had to try their noodles. We ordered Sauteed Meat and Vegetables in Crispy Egg Noodles. The crispy fried noodles were topped with slices of meat, liver, mushrooms, carrots and other vegetables. True to its name, it is really crispy even after mixing in the sauce. This one, unlike the others mentioned above, isn't very unique. It is rather similar to the kind of noodles you'll find in Chinese and Filipino restaurants. This does not mean it tastes bad. It is good but not to 'original'.

Ba Noi's can be found along Perea St., Legaspi Village, Makati City. It is at the ground floor of Greenbelt Mansions.

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