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VietChef 93 and the Amalgamation of Asian Cuisines


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Those of you who are fans of the former Chef 93 Chinese restaurant on the corner of 93rd and Lex in Manhattan (I assume that's nobody) will be interested to learn that the restaurant has now rebranded itself as VietChef 93. Fear not, the entire Chinese menu is still available. But it now coexists with an extensive Vietnamese menu. If the restaurant is successful, can a sushi bar be far behind?

This amalgamation of Asian cuisines is nothing new -- the Chinese places have had sushi bars for years now -- but I've not yet noticed this particular merger.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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There's another Chinese-Vietnam restaurant down on 3rd Avenue around 25th or 26th Street -- it changes name every 6 months or so and has never been good.

There may actually, though, be some logic behind this combination (although I don't know if it's true in these instances). A lot of the boat people who left Vietnam in the late 70s and 80s were actually ethnic Chinese who'd lived in Vietnam for many generations.

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Does anyone think that there are actually any places that combine different cuisines for non-marketing reasons? That's perhaps poorly worded, but what I am getting at is the following distinction. 98% of the "Japanese" and sushi restuarants in suburbia are actually Chinese (usually Cantonese) own and run. They were set up because critical density has already been reached in many markets for Chinese places, so opening up a "Japanese" restuarant gives them a unique niche. By contrast, it is my sense that a lot of Korean places in midtown offer sushi as part of a broader constellation of Korean dishes that its Korean and American customers have requested. Korea, being an ex colony of Japan, had exposure to the cuisine of Japan, and perhaps the restaraurant owners do not think of sushi as being necessarily uniquely Japanese, and they serve a distinct Korean version.

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Hell, we have a Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant down here in Raleigh -- "Dalat." The thought was that a pure Vietnamese would be too "weird" for the folks around here, so they had to have a full Chinese menu as well. They serve pretty darned good pho, fortunately.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Korea, being an ex colony of Japan, had exposure to the cuisine of Japan, and perhaps the restaraurant owners do not think of sushi as being necessarily uniquely Japanese, and they serve a distinct Korean version.

Definitely. Many Japanese dishes are solidly part of Korean cuisine now. Often the approach to sushi/sashimi/miso is not as nuanced or subtle. But kimchee is gooooood with toro.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

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Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Hell, we have a Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant down here in Raleigh -- "Dalat."  The thought was that a pure Vietnamese would be too "weird" for the folks around here, so they had to have a full Chinese menu as well.  They serve pretty darned good pho, fortunately.

I've noticed this combination quite a few times as well, though I can't recall seeing it specifically in Manhattan. However, I have gone looking for Vietnamese restaurants on the UWS from time to time only to find that they are now Thai or Chinese. Whether that happened because of a management change or a marketing change, I can't say.

I'd also like to second Mao's assertion that most of the "Japanese" restaurants in suburbia are in fact owned/operated by ethnic Chinese. The same thing often happens with Mexican restaurants.* Personally, I've got no issues with this practice as long as the food doesn't suffer.

Speaking of which... how IS the food at VietChef 93? I'm assuming that Mr. Shaw doesn't have a high opinion of it considering how the Chinese incarnation of the restaurant was dismissed pretty quickly.

* (Just to clarify before the jokes roll in, that's not to say they're Mexican restaurants operated by ethnic Chinese, but rather by immigrants from other Central and/or South American countries.)

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first time i ever ate sushi/sashimi was in a korean place. it was intense. i had a korean friend in college, who's fairly well known in rock n roll/publishing circles these days, from a really wealthy family. so one night he took several of us out. we went into a place with an unmarked door in the 30's, and we were seated in a fairly dark room around a table with a mountain of ice on it. bottles of vodka were in the ice, and it flowed very freely. the staff was incredibly deferential, and i didn't realize at the time what a hooha family this guy was from. then the fish started coming out - tons and tons of it, sashimi of all kinds, a few pieces on a large leaf, and the leaf set on the mountain of ice. it was so exotic at the time - i suppose i was 19. it was one of the most memorable meals i've ever had. and i remember that no paper or money or anything exchanged hands. turns out that the family had a house account there - it was a private club of some kind. we must have been there for 5 hours. i remember thinking that it was the most sensual eating experience i had ever had, and i knew that it was an eating life-defining moment. i've never had sashimi like it since.

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This amalgamation of Asian cuisines is nothing new -- the Chinese places have had sushi bars for years now -- but I've not yet noticed this particular merger.

Do you think of this as being different than KFC + Pizza Hut + Taco Bell combos? Similar motives, similar results, just as interesting from a culinary perspective.

M
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Do you think of this as being different than KFC + Pizza Hut + Taco Bell combos? Similar motives, similar results, just as interesting from a culinary perspective.

Personally, I think those combos you mentioned are just Pepsico trying to cut down on their property/payroll expenditures. I don't think they're angling to get more people to try "exotic Taco Bell cuisine" by luring them in with the Colonel's special crispy recipe or vice versa.

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Somewhat off-topic, but....I worked at a Burger King one summer when I was 16 (I lasted about a month, actually) and I suggested they make a pizza burger, using the big beef patty from the whopper, and the cheese and the tomato sauce from the veal parmigiana sandwich. I even sent it in to HQ. I was told it was "too ethnic." ha.

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I suggested they make a pizza burger, using the big beef patty from the whopper, and the cheese and the tomato sauce from the veal parmigiana sandwich.  I even sent it in to HQ.  I was told it was "too ethnic."  ha.

That's pretty funny considering they already HAD the veal parm. I've never seen a veal parm at a Burger King, but then again, I AM a youngster around here.

Throwing it back on topic again (sort of)... has anyone ever run into an Asian restaurant serving chicken fingers and hamburgers for the youngsters? Unfortunately, I know of more than a couple of places like that here in Jersey. Even more unfortunate, I know of a couple of PEOPLE who say things like, "You know what makes this a really GOOD Chinese place? You can get a nice order of french fries with your sweet and sour chicken!"

Ugh. If it can get that bad here, I shudder to think of what happens in the Midwest.

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Throwing it back on topic again (sort of)... has anyone ever run into an Asian restaurant serving chicken fingers and hamburgers for the youngsters?  Unfortunately, I know of more than a couple of places like that here in Jersey

baumgarts or whatever it's called, right?

horrible.

and icecream. just what i want: 50 screaming kids with ice cream and hamburgers running around while i'm trying to enjoy mediocre chinese food. great. sign me up.

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Personally, I think those combos you mentioned are just Pepsico trying to cut down on their property/payroll expenditures.  I don't think they're angling to get more people to try "exotic Taco Bell cuisine" by luring them in with the Colonel's special crispy recipe or vice versa.

I don't think that the exotic cuisine argument applies in Manhattan as much as it does in the burbs, but maybe I'm wrong. It just seems like the factory that produces chinese take out restaurants added a sushi module a couple of years ago and now they are chicago testing their vietnamese add on. There are even a few (well, quite a few) Chinese-Mexican combos around, surely for cost cutting and not for extoicness.

P.S. It's Yum! Brands, not PepsiCo

M
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Personally, I think those combos you mentioned are just Pepsico trying to cut down on their property/payroll expenditures.  I don't think they're angling to get more people to try "exotic Taco Bell cuisine" by luring them in with the Colonel's special crispy recipe or vice versa.

I don't think that the exotic cuisine argument applies in Manhattan as much as it does in the burbs, but maybe I'm wrong. It just seems like the factory that produces chinese take out restaurants added a sushi module a couple of years ago and now they are chicago testing their vietnamese add on. There are even a few (well, quite a few) Chinese-Mexican combos around, surely for cost cutting and not for extoicness.

P.S. It's Yum! Brands, not PepsiCo

Orik, the "exotic" part was a joke, which is why I put it in quotes. My main point was the same as yours, that it's done (in the KFC/Taco Bell/Pizza Hut case) for cost-cutting as opposed to luring customers in with a more varied menu. However, I do think that the latter approach IS what's intended in the non-corporate examples. Not that Vietnamese is exotic, but just like sushi, it does add variety and consequently may add some interest to the dining public... again, only if it's done WELL! Personally, I sometimes like the idea of having a choice of different cuisines at a restaurant, but it's often better in theory than in practice.

P.S. - What's this Yum! Brands? Last I heard it was Tricon, a spin-off of PepsiCo... not that I've been following with any particularly close interest.

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just what i want:  50 screaming kids with ice cream and hamburgers running around while i'm trying to enjoy mediocre chinese food.  great.  sign me up.

Tommy, the key thing is that you need to reinvent the experience in order to better suit your needs. Try hurling some of that mediocre Chinese food AT the screaming kids. Moving targets make for great practice and if you actually land some food in an open mouth, you'll be solving two problems at once. :hmmm:

What's the worst that can happen? You'll be banned from Baumgart's for life? Sounds like a badge of honor!

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Speaking of screaming kids, and certainly off topic, when we went to Maine for vacation with our 4 little ones (all 8 and under), my 3 year old was having trouble staying in his seat. We often use a booster with him that keeps him strapped to the seat, but at this lobster pound, they didn't have such an option. Anyhow, I threatened to strap him in using my belt, but I threatened him by saying, "You had better keep seated or I'll use my belt on you." Man, you should have seen the looks we got from the customers around us. My wife wanted to crawl under the table.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Man, you should have seen the looks we got from the customers around us.  My wife wanted to crawl under the table.

my father used "the belt" and look how i turned out. i'm just sayin.

i had a korean friend in college, who's fairly well known in rock n roll/publishing circles these days, from a really wealthy family.

of course. of course.

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  • 11 months later...
Didn't their used to be a Chinese/Sweedish place in Brooklyn?

Wasn't it called something like "We Kee?"

Was this combination less than successful?

I think you may be thinking of Tja! on Church Street in Manhattan, which bills itself as "Scandinasian." I think it may still be in business. It's still listed on CitySearch, if that's any indication: http://newyork.citysearch.com/profile/11351612

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Has anyone noticed or tried the new noodle/dim sum place at eight-five and two on the west side of the avenue?

Second or Third? There's a neon-mod looking place across from the McDonald's on Third between 84 and 85. I haven't noticed a place on Second. I'll look next time I walk across 86th for something.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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