|Succulent: Traditional pasta cooked with vegetable and chicken. The chicken is cooked in a kind of sauce until it becomes soft as butter. — VNS Photos Thu Anh and Phuong Mai
An Italian restaurant run by a Swiss-Vietnamese woman pays close attention to detail - its decor, its food and the way it is served, and Thu Anh also enjoys gazing out of the window at a leafy street below
Le Crespo is a large, luxurious restaurant on Truong Dinh with tables with a view of one of the most beautiful streets in HCM City's District 3. It serves Italian food, especially pizza served with homemade cheese.
Le Crespo's regulars often talk about the restaurant's Vietnamese-Swiss owner Mai Nguyet Ophely, who decided to live in the city after finding the love of her life - her Filipino husband.
"I named my restaurant after my husband. He loves Viet Nam and wants to live here, and so I decided to live in the city with him," says Mai, who lived for more than 20 years in Switzerland.
At Le Crespo you can see that Mai, who owned a chain of eight restaurants in Switzerland, has poured her love of decoration into creating an attractive place. The walls are stylishly adorned with paintings, and the effect of Mai's international background is generally clear on the trendy eatery.
As for the food, I was able to discover the difference between Italian homemade and other dishes.
The restaurant offers nearly 30 different dishes, all priced from VND150,000 (US$7) to VND360,000.
Romantic music and Chile's best wines complement the tasty food.
Though the downstairs tables were impressive, we decided to sit at a window table on the first floor looking over the tree-lined street below.
We started with the carbonara pasta with ham, mushroom, bacon, and fresh cream, which cost VND180,000 ($8).
The ham and bacon are imported from Italy while the cream is homemade. Served in a large, white plate, it was fragrant.
|Creamy: Carbonara spaghetti served with ham, bacon, mushroom, and fresh cream. The ham and bacon are imported from Italy while the cream is homemade.
We then got the traditional pasta. The dish (VND120,000, or $6) is cooked with vegetable and chicken and laid out to look like a flower.
The chicken is cooked in a sauce until it turns soft as butter, making it easy to eat even without the skin and fat.
We ordered for a mixed pizza of Hawaiian - my favourite - and four cheeses with honey, my daughter's.
Restaurant: Le Crespo
Address: 63 Truong Dinh, District 3
Tel: 08 3930 1783
Hours: 11:00am- 11:00pm
Comment: One of the few restaurants in HCM City to offer wood-fired brick oven pizzas
While the Hawaiian costs VND90,000 ($4.5) for half a pizza, the other costs VND115,000.
Like all pizzas served at Le Crespo, the Hawaiian and four cheeses with honey were fat-free and healthy.
The later is cooked with four kinds of homemade cheeses.
The two pizzas brought home the fact that there is no comparison between brick and conventional ovens.
Our pizzas were crispier than those made in regular ovens and thin enough to allow us to taste every topping.
"The quick cooking in a brick oven also retains the vitamins and other nutrients in the vegetables," says Mai, who has hired a chef from Marche in east-central Italy.
"The cheese does not burn but, instead, has an appealing colour and smoky flavour.
"At high temperatures, the heat from the fire and the heat bouncing off the walls of the oven crisp the outside of the pizza very quickly. The result is a flavourful crust that is puffy, soft, and chewy."
|Cheesy: Le Crespo bakes its pizzas made in a wood-fired brick oven.
We rounded off the meal with the restaurant's special prosciutto crudo pizza (VND360,000, or $18) with a topping of fresh smoked ham, fresh tomatoes, tomato sauce, arugula, and parmesan.
Its secret is buratta, a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream, which is spread in the middle of the pizza and brings unusual but delicious flavours.
Despite the fact there was so much cheese on it, it was sweetish and fresh rather than greasy.
Italian food is always eaten with red and white wines. Le Crespo has wines from Chile and France.
The Philippine waiters offer good advice in choosing the wines. — VNS