Having exposed us to the thrills of Hanoi-style street food, East Dallas Vietnamese restaurant Mot Hai Ba has launched a new dinner menu that focuses on the family side of dining, with shareable plates and sides. Chef-owners Colleen O'Hare and Jeana Johnson are still emphasizing the same authentic flavors and ingredients, but they have redefined their presentation.
"We're exploring the realm of a Vietnamese family-style dinner," Johnson says. "We've recast our approach to doing entrees. Previously, we had everything in one bowl for you to eat. This becomes more about sharing a meal."
"We're exploring the realm of a Vietnamese family-style dinner," says co-owner Jeana Johnson says.
The shift comes as Mot Hai Ba celebrates its one-year anniversary. Johnson and O'Hare brought these unique Hanoi-style dishes to Dallas after studying the cuisine in Vietnam. Zagat rated the restaurant one of the 25 most important in the country in 2013, and it made D Magazine's 2013 top 10 list. Most important of all, Mot Hai Ba was voted best restaurant of 2013 by CultureMap readers.
Observing that many tables were already sharing, Johnson and O'Hare decided to move toward a more authentic experience. "This gives you an opportunity to eat dinner the way you would if you were actually in Vietnam," Johnson says.
New dishes include fried chicken with coconut-poached corn, bamboo spicy shrimp, whole fried fish, quail with yellow curry and "street-style" duck leg. And there's a new menu of sides, such as roasted mushrooms and jasmine rice, all big enough to share.
The fried chicken is a half chicken, broken into parts that's steamed, dredged in potato starch, and fried until the outside gets thick and crunchy. The potato starch makes it gluten-free. "Gluten-intolerant people usually can't eat fried chicken," Johnson says.
The whole fried fish is branzino, which is scored, fried until crispy, then topped with marinated julienned vegetables and fish sauce. The duck leg is marinated in fermented red and white bean paste and grilled until the skin crackles.
They've replaced the whole crab in the shell — some customers found it too messy — with lump crab and black noodles in a dark seafood sauce that Johnson says "smells and tastes just like Vietnam."
Sides are all new. Asparagus is tossed in a lime-fish sauce vinaigrette, then topped with carrot, bean sprout and six-minute egg. Roasted mushrooms — all Asian varieties such as enoki and maitake — are drizzled with sesame oil and soy, and slow-roasted. There's a green vegetable of the day that might be long beans, Chinese broccoli or baby bok choy.
Garlic noodles are simple perfection: egg noodles made fresh — "close to here, and they're kick-ass to start with," Johnson says — blanched, then cloaked in a sauce of garlic, butter and chopped scallions.
Tempura okra consists of whole pods, fried in a tempura batter until crisp, not slimy. It's a sweet throwback to the previous tenant, York Street, whose fried okra received many raves.
Some items they kept, including the marinated grilled fish of the day with dill and yogurt, and the signature shaking beef. "We had to keep the shaking beef," Johnson says. "There's no getting rid of that dish. There would have been a cross burning. Every table gets the shaking beef and the grilled fish."
And they haven't changed the lunch menu. "Not yet — but we will change the lunch menu," she says.