For the accomplished three weeks, Kevin Tien has been aggravating to ample a basin of rice borsch with all the jigsaw pieces that put calm his life’s story, but a accomplished dining compound for congee has been boxy to crack.
The buzz-collecting D.C. chef has been alive overtime to advance a card for Moon Rabbit, a avant-garde Vietnamese restaurant that opens for banquet on the Southwest Waterfront on Saturday, October 31. Back the administration accumulation at the InterContinental Hotel at the Wharf recruited Tien, they told him they capital him to baker whatever acquainted personal. That access had yielded a James Beard accolade for for the antecedent restaurant partner, chef Kwame Onwuachi, who gave Afro-Caribbean cuisines a dainty analysis at Kith/Kin. The befalling was altogether timed for Tien, who larboard awful advancing Emilie’s beneath than a year afterwards aperture the Asian-American accustomed dining spot. The fizzling of that activity and a angle Tien begin during the COVID-19 communicable was already banishment him to reflect on how he authentic himself as a chef and why he knew so little about his Vietnamese family’s history.
Although Tien says he’s still tinkering with the appropriate arrangement for the Carolina Gold rice in a basin of cháo cua, the congee is an aboriginal archetype of area he’s accustomed afterwards digging into Vietnamese cookbooks, exploring dishes that were alien to him at mom-and-pop restaurants in Northern Virginia’s Eden Center, and reconnecting with his mother and his grandmother advanced of his contempo wedding.
“We consistently had congee in the house,” Tien says. “Whenever you’re sick, you accept congee. Whenever it’s cold, you accept congee.”
The adaptation on Moon Rabbit’s aperture card starts with a lobster and shrimp banal and folds in bounded crab, a accustomed additive in the burghal area Tien has adapted for the accomplished nine years. Halved pods of broiled okra and a aphotic roux booze drizzled on top accord the rice a blow of gumbo. The chef says he was the aboriginal affiliate of his ancestors built-in in the United States. He spent a determinative block of his boyhood in Lafayette, Louisiana.
“Your ancestors pushes you to be added American. It’s all about assimilation,” Tien says. “You try to be American. And again aggravating to be American growing up, I absent blow with my Vietnamese side. My ancestors came over afterwards the Vietnamese war, so they don’t appetite to allocution about it much.”
Tien says his grandmother aloft his mother in Ho Chi Minh City. Although his ancestors was based afterpiece to the coast, he’s application an civil compound for a dipping booze alleged muối ớt xanh sữa đặc— aperitive abridged milk loaded up with blitzed Thai blooming chiles — that’s served with broiled prawns dressed in garlic and Thai basil butter. He adds scallions to cut the heat, but the ablaze additive still reflects how his ancestors brand to eat.
Moon Rabbit’s pastry chef has yet to arrive, so Tien had to appear up with the restaurant’s aboriginal ambrosia himself. His bánh flan comes in a cup with a band of abridged milk-based custard propping up a accommodation of coffee caramel abstract with amber chaplet and flakes of salt.
Tien credits chef de cuisine Judy Beltrano, who he says aggregate sous chef duties with him back they were at Momofuku CCDC, with basic the abstraction for a ambrosial peanut romesco booze meant to arm-twist bún bò huế (beef vermicelli soup) in a vegetarian bowl congenital about broiled Caraflex cabbage, pineapple, and herbs.
While Vietnamese dishes are the through-line for the restaurant, Tien is still venturing into added cuisines in the aforementioned way that fabricated the aboriginal kitchen he led, at above Eater D.C. Restaurant of the Year Himitsu, a hard-to-define hit.
The chef got his alpha confined sushi, and his crudos accept consistently affective attention. Moon Rabbit offers a kombujime cockle crudo that references a Japanese adjustment of abating by acute seafood amid kombu, the umami-laden broiled seaweed. Slices of cockle go in a algid attic borsch modeled afterwards Thai tom kha soup with shiso leaf, pickled fair onions, and brittle chile allay sauce.
Chim cút chiên bơ, a appearance of twice-fried blanch acclimatized in Chinese bristles aroma at Vietnamese artery stalls, is double-dredged and absurd Louisiana-style with a bristles aroma coat at Moon Rabbit. The birds appear with bead biscuits, red onions advised in the appearance of Peruvian salsa Criolla, and adulate aerated with chiles Tien says he’s been crumbling back he accustomed the gig (about six weeks).
Braised wagyu abbreviate ribs topped with broiled maitake mushrooms and served alongside pommes borsch and au povire booze feel French, but Tien says alike that bowl has Asian components. The bowl is attenuate nod to Vietnamese atramentous pepper steak, and Sichuan peppers bathe in the sweet, cognac-spiced sauce. He’s alive on sourcing a Vietnamese blooming peppercorn, too.
Despite earning coveted reviews, actualization on affable competitions, and actuality accustomed as one of the top adolescent chefs in the country by outlets like Eater and Aliment & Wine, the 33-year-old chef says he’s too generally collapsed into the allurement of aggravating to archetypal himself afterwards others.
“If I try to be like anybody else, I’ll aloof become a second- or third-rate adaptation of that person,” Tien says. “I’ll never, like, absolutely be good. So what I charge to do is I charge to acquisition out what fabricated me assured in my aliment in the aboriginal place, and absolutely focus on myself.”
Moon Rabbit (801 Wharf Artery SW) opens for banquet aboriginal Saturday, October 31. The restaurant affairs to eventually add options for takeout, a added accidental lunch, and allowance account at the InterContinental Hotel.
Best Picture Chi Modern Vietnamese Kitchen – Chi Modern Vietnamese Kitchen
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