It’s barely 7:30am in the morning and my parents’ backyard matching making business is in full swing. The targeted males sway nervously as my mom sets her scrutinizing gaze upon their pale yellow faces, deciding which lucky ones will be plucked from the crowd to meet their mate. The rest of them will either get their chance tomorrow or wither away. There’s not much time to dally before she has to head to her day job so she picks two worthy candidates and takes them around the corner where a few femmes are waiting. Without so much as a cursory greeting, the males and females get busy doing the deed. All that is left is to wait for the resulting union to bear fruit. A bitter fruit.
I have lived most of my life in Orange County, the place made into a one-dimensional caricature by shows such as The OC and The Real Housewives. The real Orange County is a giant fondue of different peoples, languages, and cultures. It is also home to the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam. You can’t drive through the city of Westminster without seeing retail signs in Vietnamese on every corner and the ubiquitous Pho restaurant gracing every strip mall, all evidence of a thriving immigrant population in an area known as Little Saigon.
But the Vietnamese presence wasn’t always so visible. When I first became acquainted with Vietnamese food twenty years ago, Bolsa Avenue (a main thoroughfare in Westminster) only had a smattering of Vietnamese stores and the main grocery stores were the 99 Ranch Market and the now closed Mah Wah Supermarket, both of which catered to a mainly Chinese clientele, including my family. We used to shop there for our groceries because Bolsa Avenue was closer than Los Angeles, and Irvine was still dotted with orange trees. Back then, foods such as pho and banh mi were not yet part of the common vernacular.
I just finished feeding each of my eight employees (or my “minions” as I like to call them) a generic looking sandwich so they can get back to work slinging out plates of spaghetti carbonara and pumpkin soup to the customers streaming into my restaurant. I was loathe to fork over $200 dollars for each measly sandwich but that’s the price I have to pay to keep my restaurant humming. As I take a break from running the joint to read up on the latest MLB playoff news, I get an SMS from Les.
New Baby here!! Yay!! Trade water with me.
On a scale from oblivious to deranged groupie, I rank in the upper 50th percentile somewhere along the lines of shameless admiration when it comes to Dan Barber and Blue Hill. Besides the obvious fact that Barber can cook up some mouth-watering food, the man sous-vide a turkey in a dishwasher for Thanksgiving one year. How awesome is that?!
Stone Barns Education Center is one of my favorite places to visit when I am in New York and its Blue Hill Restaurant ranks high on the list of best dining experiences for my friends and me. The chefs and servers work in concert to get diners excited about food from the table side presentation of local ingredients to the parade of well thought out and executed dishes. It was no wonder that my friends and I looked to Blue Hill to provide a great meal to say farewell to summer and lay out the welcome mat for autumn.