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The culinary answer to happiness
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Distinctive Vietnamese Cuisine
By Jill Weinlein, Park LaBrea News

May 28, 2015

 

Vietnamese cuisine is more than just pho noodle soup, fried spring rolls and banh mi. Hannah An, from Crustacean in Beverly Hills and San Francisco, is educating Angelenos about other special Vietnamese dishes at her new restaurant, The District by Hannah An.

Located across from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in the space of the former Barefoot Café Bar, the two-story elegant restaurant serves more than traditional Vietnamese food. Her menu is a culinary map of the different districts in northern, central and southern Vietnam. In Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) there are 24 different districts, each offering distinctive culture and food that varies by region. Some districts have Chinese and Cambodian influences, while others have a French fusion.

An designed the interior of the restaurant with a sand and ocean French colonial theme. Large Edison bulbs representing Vietnamese lanterns hang in the dining room. Cut wood squares representing sand are lined up along a wall, and tables give a reflection reminiscent of the ocean. It’s visually serene and beautiful.

As the eldest daughter of five siblings, An’s dishes have distinctive flavors that reflect balance. She uses a minimal amount of oil, and pairs herbs and vegetables with meat using recipes that include lemongrass, ginger, mint, Vietnamese mint, Saigon cinnamon, bird’s eye chili, lime and basil leaves. All dishes are made with fresh ingredients, as she does not own a freezer.

I recently joined An and a few of her guests to taste 13 distinctive plates and enjoy her craft cocktails. We started with crispy spring rolls — a very popular snack in the northern district of Vietnam. An adds sea bass to her spring rolls. The dish is a perfect harmony of fresh herbs, vegetables and fish. Instead of traditional peanut hoisin sauce for dipping, An serves exquisite tamarind, garlic and lime dipping sauce. We also enjoyed her signature Chilean sea bass. It’s another example of her yin and yang cooking style. A dill and turmeric sauce blends beautifully with the fresh fish topped with hot onions and served over cool rice noodles. Crispy white rice crackers sprinkled with black seeds add a delightful crunch. The shaken beef is made with filet mignon cooked traditionally in a wok with red onions, garlic, tomato and Thai basil. It’s served with crisp Chinese broccoli. A must to order are An’s noodles with luscious garlic sauce. The dish can also be enhanced with flash-fried lobster.

The restaurant offers craft and classic cocktails made with freshly squeezed fruit juices and housemade agave drinks. The Saigon cinnamon agave and peach rooibos agave are made in-house. The rim of the glass of the Guava Rita is coated with kaffir lime leaf salt. Other drinks have colorful names such as Side Car to Vietnam, Hot Asian and Face Down in Saigon. Wines by the glass or bottle from France, California, Italy, Greece, New Zealand, Portugal and Argentina are also available. Beers include two selections from Japan, two from the United States and Hue lager from Vietnam. Japanese sake is also served.

One of the restaurant’s most popular salads is An’s salmon Caesar salad. After massaging the kale leaves, the chef sprinkles quinoa and tops the salad with a generous piece of wild Norwegian salmon. It’s dressed with light Hannah’s District lime Caesar dressing. The chef said she wants guests to see the salmon and not hide or mask it with heavy sauces. An said the tamarind black cod dish is a traditional Vietnamese favorite cooked in a clay pot. She also serves ca kho with seared bok choy in Vietnamese tomato herb broth.

An wanted us to try a few of the brunch dishes. I highly recommend the Morning Star oatmeal with sliced starfruit, mango and papaya. An adds avocado, which I have never seen served with oatmeal. The luscious and creamy fruit is the star of the dish. It tastes great with a drizzle of wild honey and Vietnamese cinnamon.

I also enjoyed her banh xeo crepe, which was slightly crispy on the outside and filled with chicken, shrimp, red leaf lettuce and mint sprigs, and sprinkled with fish sauce.

During brunch, the restaurant serves bottomless guava mimosas and bloody Marys that pair perfectly with The District Benedict or crab Benedict, made with a bao bun. Instead of a traditional English muffin, An flash fries a bao and tops it with fresh crab or thick-cut applewood smoked bacon, as well as light lemongrass sauce.

I enjoyed lunch so much that I started telling everyone about An. Four nights later, my husband and I went back with guests for dinner.

The interior is even prettier in the evening, with candles and the Edison hanging lights providing a romantic atmosphere. I discovered new District delicacies by ordering both of An’s calamari dishes. Her Saigon calamari is robust with wok fried squid, Thai basil and scallions. It made a big impression on our guests, as did An’s signature wok lobster, chicken curry, Chilean sea bass and homemade noodles. We finished with flavorful Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk.

Each dish delighted our senses with intriguing fresh ingredients. The District By Hannah An is a culinary adventure that I look forward to enjoying again soon.

The restaurant opens at 11:30 a.m. for lunch every Monday through Friday; and daily at 5 p.m. for dinner. Brunch is served on Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. $$$ 8722 W. 3rd St. (310)278-2345.

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