WITH all the hoopla over Chinese New Year which begins tomorrow, we often forget it's also the Vietnamese New Year, Tet.
Not too late to ring in
Tet at Vien Dong
This means Chinatown's Vietnamese shops stock plenty of banh chung - rolls of mochi rice, mung beans, pork and onions wrapped in banana leaves and steamed for 8 hours. This treat is similar to the Chinese jung.
And the tiniest restaurants find themselves booked for celebrations. Vien-Dong, in the Maunakea Marketplace fronting Maunakea Street, is nearly booked up for Saturday night, but seats are available for tomorrow night.
On any other day, one might sate the appetite with pho bo ($4.50 small/$5.50 large), the rice noodle soup served with beef meatballs and strips of beef brisket, or mi dac biet ($5.95), saimin with shrimp, pork and crab.
For the new year I suggest the festive Combination Fire Pot ($20). The price is reasonable when one considers this stock pot brimming with shrimp, scallops, greens, broccoli, cauliflower, shiitake, mussels and crab legs, will easily feed four.
One might also sample the Sauteed Crab ($16.95), although I would recommend calling ahead for availability.
These dishes can be surrounded by humbler entrees such as Charbroiled Pork Balls ($6.95), sweet meatballs that are wrapped with rice paper at the table with lettuce, daikon, pickled carrots, bean sprouts and peanut sauce. The rice paper could have been presented better. Some parts were limp, while segments that were not moistened were still dry and brittle.
Papaya Salad topped with Beef Jerky ($5.95) marked a departure from the usual Papaya Salad with fish sauce, shrimp and pork ($6.95). The former dish employed soy sauce with the usual vinegar, chilies, sugar and garlic, all topped with spicy Chinese beef jerky. I prefer the latter Vietnamese version.
For dessert, there are a variety of fresh fruit shakes or a combination of red beans, gelatin, coconut milk and crushed ice served in a tall glass.
On Friday and Saturday only, the restaurant is offering free dessert for parties of 10 or more. Parties of 8 to 10 can also receive a 10 percent discount.
Vien-Dong restaurantWhere: 1120 Maunakea St. #176
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Sundays
Prices: Less than $15 for two for lunch; four can eat dinner for $30 to $40
After writing about food on the web last week, Richard Ching e-mailed to tell me about his site, "Richard's Home Page: Home of the Plate Lunch Critique," at http://www.pixi.com/~hiapp/.
Lunch on the web
The owner of a real estate appraisal company and "frustrated tuba player," said he started the page as a dare, but does a pretty nifty job in ranking eateries such as Queen's BBQ and Ray's Cafe on a scale of one to four Spam cans. Of the one-can rating he assigns Ray's atmosphere, he says, "Why do you think there's so much take-out?"
Reviews are accompanied by photos of the restaurant's exterior, plus a plate lunch close-up.
Also, I had mentioned Craig Miyamoto's Tiramisu page, and a reader asked, what is tiramisu?
Well, the "Tuscan trifle" starts with a layer of fluffy lady fingers upon which is layered delicate Mascarpone cheese, cream, espresso, liquor such as brandy or rum, a bit of sugar and cocoa or shaved chocolate. But, like Miyamoto says, descriptions do not do the dessert justice and he suggests sampling some tiramisu at California Pizza Kitchen.
- excellent;To recommend a restaurant, write: The Weekly Eater, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802. Or send e-mail to email@example.com
- very good, exceeds expectations;
- below average.