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New Tadioto menu recalls old memories

Update: November, 23/2014 - 22:54
Smokescreen: Tadioto, a liquored-up watering hole for Ha Noi's free thinkers, is a figment of Nguyen Qui Duc's active imagination. The chairs, lamps, doors and robotic trinkets are all designed and made by Duc. — VNS Photo Truong Vi

A dream turning true for a journalist turned hedonist chef, the Tadioto Bar offers culinary creations that deftly traverses different continents. Lucy Sexton is both satiated and transported to nostalgic cravings.

Stop when you see the china-red iron gates on Tong Dan Street and part the smoky velvet curtains. Tadioto Bar promises a rich menu for the eyes and for the taste buds.

The bar, now in its umpteenth location, is a well known watering hole for Ha Noi's local and international intellectuals, but here, at the bar, the water comes in the form of classic and seasonally inspired cocktails.

Nguyen Qui Duc, a respected international journalist and writer, called it quits seven… or more… years ago to bartend and open Tadioto in Ha Noi.

Dip me again: Creamy chickpea hummus pairs well with a lightly vinegared tomato and onion salad-garnish. Big and heavy enough to share.

Besides his consummate thirst for fine liquors, Duc designs spaces and everything that goes in them--from hotels, to vacation homes to Tadioto Bar.

Like his well-balanced designs, Duc and Chef Hugo Barberis, who is currently executive chef at The Victoria in Sa Pa, have composed a new cuisine menu that is both simple and expansive.

The menu, which premiered this past week, keeps the few items that Tadioto has previously offered, but this time it's outfitted with two sandwhiches, two pasta offerings, breakfast and some seriously delicious deserts.

Color palate: Taro and shitake mushroom soup come to life with touches of scallion, shallot and a beautiful hue of lavendar.

I started off with the taro and shitake mushroom soup. I was expecting something brothy but was pleasantly surprised to find a delicate bowl hosting a hearty gruel. It's such a pretty shade of lavender that I thought I'd taste the colour; instead it's a subtle taro flavour balanced by punches of scallion and chew-worthy shitake. Be sure to order a glass of red wine to accompany, medium body and at room temperature. A spiced mull-wine would be a nice addition to the menu as an accompaniment to the autumn/winter soup. Hint, hint.

Next came what can only be described as that one dish at the party that embarrasses you because you can't resist eating it… all of it. It's a chickpea hummus surrounded by lightly vinegared tomato and onion and decked-off with shaved cucumber that could serve as a pappardelle to any sauce.

Scoop up the sizeable portion with homemade rice crackers coated in toasted sesame. It's perfect bar food, to be shared and heavy enough to ameliorate alcohol's less attractive traits.

Smoked silly: The smoked aubergine spread dissentigrates upon touch. Toasted sesame rice crackers cut add a nice crunch.

I thought by the time I was done with the chickpea hummus that I couldn't eat anymore, no matter how healthy and fresh it all was. However, the aubergine spread is a perfect follow up, even on a stomach already full of ethanol fumes and dense carbs.

The flavors are as light as the mousse texture; the aubergine falls apart like chiffon egg-whites falling out of their whipped form. The flavour doesn't register immediately, but like good wines and whiskeys, resonates rather than hits with a single punch.

I kept the meal tapas style, which satisfied my nostalgic cravings for Turkish and Mediterranean food. Duc promises he will introduce a tajine soon, a dish he learned straight from the source in Morocco. He also speaks of a three-hour stewed pork belly he will cook Hue style, with fish sauce, caramelized onions and a "pungent pepper" from Phu Quoc. The menu will change up every few weeks, as he is inspired.

For Duc, he just enjoys cooking and Tadioto is a venue to share the food he dreams up. One of his goals is to, "introduce Vietnamese to new tastes, but don't overwhelm them. I keep in those Vietnamese herbs".

For example he, "likes to drink Port in the winter, but Vietnamese are not used to it. I would like to introduce them to it".

The cooks at Tadioto also remind me of the way Mediterranean chefs cook, whatever can be gotten fresh and seasonal that day. The staff are all locals who know the market scene well. Duc says they are often running around getting fresh ingredients for the day; following the trail of quality produce rotating around Ha Noi's market circuit.

Tadioto

Address: 24B Tong Dan Street

Phone: 04 6680 9124

Comment:Tapas Western and Mediterranean fare with Vietnamese influences threading together the tailored menu.

Price: VND50,000 - 150,000

The cooks in the kitchen have been exhaustively prepping for the new menu and expanded kitchen, religiously weighing ingredients on scales and mimicking the pictures posted around the kitchen to get the plating correct.

As many foodies in Ha Noi know well, consistency is a hard thing to find in Ha Noi and a hard principle to enforce.

Duc joked that he barks at his staff, "Do not deviate! If the mint is in the wrong way one day, the next day the pastrami will be wrong!"

Scanning the rest of the new kitchen's offerings, I look forward to trying the Pain Perdu, a thick French bread drenched in butter, cinnamon and egg and then fried. I'll also have to get the chorizo tapas next time.

But, there was one thing I could not put off till next time. I closed out the bill with a threesome of truffles, lemongrass, mandarin and peppermint. The chocolate truffles are made in house and use Ha Noi's own Laurence Severac's finely tuned extracts to stroke our aromatic memories.

Exiting Tadioto's velvet curtains on a mixed note of mandarin and peppermint, I left dreaming of the chocolate and clove covered orange my family cracks open at the stroke of midnight every Christmas Eve. — VNS

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