Here is the scenario. It’s raining. And my stomach is growling. It’s summer in Chicago, but it feels like autumn and with the wind blowing off of Lake Michigan, chilly temperatures are a given. I am a man of easy appetite, so I guess that’s a given also. I’m also adventurous and that meant trying another restaurant that has had many of my friends staring at me in complete bewilderment. My friend, another friend of ours who is a fan of good eating and drink like us, and I went out for some Vietnamese food in Chicago’s Uptown. Tucked sniffing distance from the Argyle Red Line stop on 1104-06 W. Argyle Street, we got out of the chilly, rainy air and decided to do something about our constant growling bellies.
We didn’t waste any time figuring out what we wanted. We’re not fashion models concerned about some agent falling out in the middle of the floor and acting like a brat in the grocery store wanting an extra bag of cookies. [Well, I was once a fashion model, but now I’m a man of easy appetite. Oh, I said that already.] Anyway, we started with goi cuon. These spring rolls were filled with pork, shrimp, vegetables and vermicelli rolled in thin rice paper. Server up with a sweet sauce, it was tasty enough to make you want to start doing the happy dance. We also had cha gio, which were Vietnamese egg rolls. I will never eat another Chinese egg roll ever, not after sinking my teeth into these Vietnamese goodies. Oh, wait, I had sworn off restaurant Chinese food after my first room mate out of college had his parents over and they cooked dinner. You haven’t had good Chinese food until you’ve had some Chinese ma and pop in your kitchen doing it right and Mr. and Mrs. Cheung are always welcome in my kitchen. But I digress.
There was room on the table and we couldn’t have that. We ordered a banh xeo, a Vietnamese pancake with bean sprouts, pork, shrimp, and apparently a lot of love. That thing was on the table all of a good five minutes. All we left on the plate was knife we used to divide it among ourselves. With the weather being dreary and wet outside, we also figured that a big bowl of soup would really go over well. Chicken noodle soup? No. Campbell’s tomato soup? No. Progresso? Hell no! Vegetable soup from a can? No, no, no! We had authentic Vietnamese danger soup, not for the faint of heart. This was a mild yet spicy soup that had a thin broth, thin rice noodles, meat balls, chicken, and — clutch your pearls — tripe. You can’t go up in a Vietnamese restaurant and not partake of a delicacy true to the land. No way! The waitress had warned us that Americans are not a fan of the soup. Now that I think of it, that may be the reason why we ordered it, because we didn’t want something watered down or tempered for the American palate. I still won’t eat anyone’s chitterlings, but I will go back to this restaurant and have some more of the soup.
Having finished off the appetizers and soup, it was then time for the entrées. Because the portions are so huge, we ordered two large dishes of ca hong chien nuoc mam and ga xao sa ot. The ca hong chien nuoc mam was a fried red snapper that was so meaty that I wanted to catch a flight back to Jamaica for some red snapper, rice and peas, plantain, and ginger beer. Um, um, good! The ga xao sa ot was sliced chicken with garlic, lemon grass, and chilli, served over steamed white rice. Rarely have I had any lemon chicken prepared to such perfection as to have the meat fall apart when you stick a fork in it. Tien Giang did an outstanding job in its preparation of the chicken dish.
The Argyle/Broadway location on Chicago’s North Side is well known for the many Vietnamese and Thai restaurants. You can find just about any one of the two on any corner and in between and you can also find them filled to capacity with other Vietnamese and Thai patrons, a true indication of the authenticity of the restaurants. We had no particular restaurant in mind for this dinner outing and because we picked Tien Giang on a whim, it made the dining experience that much more enjoyable. The price of the entire meal was not one to have us chopping the tables in half. The service was absolutely great. [I could name numerous restaurants that could take notes.] And the food was outstanding. This was a winner in every since of the word, says the man with an easy appetite.