We made another stop to Southeast Asia last night with Global Grubbing through our new “dinner club” series. This time, we headed over to the South Federal Boulevard region of Denver, which houses a plethora of Asian markets, restaurants, and stores.
If you’ve never ventured into this part of town, you’ll know you’ve made it when you see the Far East Center just south of Alameda on Federal Boulevard. This shopping center consists of the Little Saigon Market, Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants along with other shopping adventures where you can stock up on treasured Asian trinkets, cooking accessories, and more. It’s truly a treat and a feast for your eyes.
While we didn’t dine in the Far East Center, I did swing by the Little Saigon Market to pick up some green papaya and long beans so I could make another round of my Thai Papaya Salad this week.
Last night our group met at New Saigon, a Vietnamese hotspot and an award-winning favorite among Denver locals. (Check out this recent and fantastic article on the restaurant and the owner’s journey from Vietnam – worth the read and inspiring immigrant story!)
Charting into new territory with a dinner club series, I wasn’t sure just how many guests we’d be dining with so I reserved a table for 8, but soon 9 and 10 poured in and the restaurant had to move us to a bigger table. While the group was convinced we could all ‘cozy in together’, the server knew otherwise.
The menu at New Saigon is overwhelming to say the least. It’s almost twenty pages long and lists foods and items most of us have never seen, heard of, nor can we pronounce. I suggested the only thing I knew and had loved before, the rice paper wraps, but most trusted their own senses and went with what tempted their tummies.
On a large flat screen TV in the back of the restaurant, manicured photographs of the foods rotated on the screen, similar to what you’d see in a fast food restaurant. But the atmosphere in New Saigon is much more than a fast food restaurant, with a sleek, dark interior, it’s feels much more like “fine-dining” when compared to other Vietnamese restaurants. I remember being worried when I walked into this place with my two-year-old son a few months back.
We began the evening with a quick introduction of all the guests. Only two had ever been to Vietnam. Most had only experienced pho as their Vietnamese cuisine before. But, all were eager to try new foods and meet new people.
Soon, food began arriving in ripples.
First were the soups, wonton and hot and sour, the fried spring rolls, then pho. Next came the bigger entrees starting with the “make your own” rice paper (spring rolls) wraps and the large hot pot vegetarian soup. After that, the rice dishes appeared, from pineapple duck, to gingered shrimp to vegetarian and duck curries. Our table was full and boasting with dishes, it’s no wonder the server wouldn’t let us eat all “cozied” together.
I personally dined on a small bowl of pho, Hu Tiu Tom Thi, which consisted of shrimp, pork and rice noodles. It was my first experience of the popular pho dish, and I was impressed. I missed the fact that I had a whole plate of accessories for my soup, bean sprouts, cilantro, jalapeno and lime, which I would have eagerly added had I known before it was nearly gone. Sometimes it helps to have someone “show you the ropes” when you are eating something new, part of the reason I love dining with others over various cuisines and what brings people together through Global Grubbing.
I also shared the Tu Quy Banh Hoi Dac Biet, a rice paper wrap tray piled high with grilled shrimp, chicken, beef, and pork. It was nothing short of splendid. I can’t believe it’s been months since I’ve had these scrumptious spring rolls. I’m already calculating when I can make it back over there for my next feast.
The grubbers all enjoyed their foods, the conversation, and many walked away with tomorrow’s lunch. It was a delightful evening with incredible fresh-flavored foods and just a taste of the beautiful country of Vietnam.