Satisfy a craving for beef without resorting to burgers
Special to The Seattle Times
Sure, I read "Fast Food Nation" too, but sometimes nothing hits the spot like beef.
When the craving hits, if you don't want a McBurger, you could go to a steakhouse, where you'll drop $30 for a rib eye and end up in a heated discussion (sorry) about what constitutes medium rare. Or you could go to Nha Trang, a Vietnamese restaurant in the Chinatown International District, and enjoy seven courses of beef for $15.95. That's for two people.
Bo bay mon (beef seven ways) was not the invention of a Vietnamese-American restaurateur with a gleam in his eye and a sure knowledge of American eating habits. It was created in Vietnam in the 1930s. The "seven ways" rarely vary much, and although some restaurants serve other meats seven ways, Nha Trang sticks to the original.
If you're not a beefeater, take heart: You can insinuate yourself into a group of bo bay mon devotees with ease, because Nha Trang offers an extensive menu of salads, stir-fries over rice and many types of noodles. The noodles are available as bowls or as trays with the same assortment of vegetables and rice paper that you get with the beef.
I particularly enjoyed banh hoi dac biet nha trang ($7.95), rice vermicelli topped with barbecued pork skewers, rice paper-wrapped fried shrimp and garlicky meatballs.
The menu also features a section of vegetarian options, such as crispy egg noodles with mixed vegetables ($6.95).
Service is friendly and quick, and the younger waiters speak fluent English. So a special request will be easily understood. If you're not part of a large, high-maintenance table of beef connoisseurs, however, you may have to go up to the counter to get your water glass refilled.
OK, some of the seven courses of beef are awfully similar, and Nha Trang won't be putting Metropolitan Grill out of business.
But tell a meat-loving friend that you're taking them out for seven courses of beef and watch their eyes light up. You can keep the price to yourself.
All dishes served as part of "beef seven ways."
Bo Nhung Dam: The kitchen brings out trays of raw beef slices, which you give a quick dip in a pot of bubbling vinegar-based broth and then eat plain or wrap in rice paper with an assortment of vegetables and sweetened fish sauce. Vegetables include lightly pickled carrots and daikon; handfuls of basil, mint and Vietnamese cilantro; and cucumber. The beef slices emerge tart and tender after a few seconds in the hotpot. The rice paper and veggies stay around, and you're encouraged to wrap any of the remaining courses.
Goi Bo: A simple and refreshing salad with beef, carrot and daikon — good, but not particularly memorable on the heels of the hotpot extravaganza.
Bo La Lot, Bo Nuong Xa, Bo Cuon Mo Chai: These three sausages (leaf-wrapped beef, lemongrass beef and "beef sausage," respectively) are served together on one plate. The la lot beef, a grilled cigarillo-sized sausage wrapped in a leaf similar to the Japanese shiso, was my favorite — the grill imparted a nice degree of smokiness, and the leaves have a peppery, vegetal note. One of the other beef offerings was similar to the la lot but without the leaf, and the third was a sliced sausage with scallions. The three were more similar than different.
Cha Dum: This meatball, made with nuts and mushrooms, didn't have much flavor. Neither did the accompanying shrimp chips.
Chao Bo: The seven courses came to an end with this congee, or rice porridge. Congee is often designed to be comforting in its blandness, but this one was surprisingly flavorful, perhaps because it was enriched with (what else?) shreds of beef.
Itemized bill, meal for two
Bo Bay Mon (beef seven ways): $15.95
Iced coffee: $2.25
Matthew Amster-Burton: firstname.lastname@example.org