Hale Vietnam

Past thursday culinary caper was Hale Vietnam at the top of Kaimuki. Been there a couple times in the past and the experience was good. Pretty good stuff at decent price was my memories.

So this time we’ll go into a little more of our experience. We all started with Tiger lager and the stuffed chicken wings appetizer. The beer is excellent. We belatedly notice that they have a Vietnam beer, 33 Export that we havent tried before. Dang, there’s an even number pieces of chicken, to be split between three guys, time for janken! I commented that I guess thats how it should be since chicken’s come with even numbers of wings. Except if you look carefully, you’ll notice it must have been a single amputee chicken. The wings were good, but bland. I kept dribbling on the dressing, should have hit it with some of the pepper sauce.

We next decided on a salad, and to be different from the usual green papaya went for the beef on romaine. Thin slices of rare beef on romaine with that same fish sauce dressing. Yummy. Good departure from the usual.

Next up we all did our own individual entrees. I went for the black pepper braised catfish. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, 3 steaks cooked in a pan with a pepper and sweet salty sauce. I thought there might be some veggies along with it. It was quite tasty. The fish was very much like butterfish, with perhaps a bit of a different taste. I didn’t know catfish was that fatty.

I still had space and finished with a simple lilkoi custard. Hard to mess that up.

To sum up, the food was good quality and prepared with care. Perhaps the flavors weren’t spectacular, but it was still good. I had found myself this time around with a fairly good sized bill compared to some of other dinners. It’s kind of a bummer that fish costs more. I give it a 3 out of 5 satisfied but not stuffed monkeys.

The stuffed chicken wings appetizer was below average.  I’ve had similar preparations elsewhere, but nowhere have I had it so gristly and dry.  I ended up with a cut-up palate from the overcooked breading too.  I give it a C-.  Maybe it was just this time, but consider giving this one a pass. 

The beef salad was good.  There was a fair amount of tender, lightly cooked beef covering a mound of romaine lettuce bits.  The dressing was good, but was represented in overabundance – the salad was swimming in dressing.  The lettuce was cut with a knife instead of torn, so the edges were brown.  Considering the time-frame in which this occurs, the lettuce was probably prepped before the dinner opening, and was left to idle in a bowl of water or in the fridge.  the salad was garnished with sprigs of fresh mint and some tomato wedges.  Tomatoes were also present in the salad mix in the form of mutilated slices.  I give it a B+.  This is a good alternative to the green papaya salad which has become de rigueur at Vietnamese restaurants.  This excited my palate more than the prospect of the chicken salad, since in general, unless it’s a chicken entree with curry, lemongrass, or black bean sauce, “chicken” in this context probably means “dry, flavorless, boiled, and shredded chicken breast”. 

In addition to the shared appetizer and salad, I had the pho with rare steak.  This is the first time I’ve tried the pho here:  I usually get rice and entree plates.  The soup was very good.  The quality of the meat and side vegetables was good also, but the bean sprouts could have been cleaned better – there were a lot of the dark brown seed casings mixed in or still clinging to the cotyledons.  They included some sliced hot peppers, which were hot.  I shared those with the boys to spread out the punishment.  I’d give the pho an A-.  If ordering alone, get the “large”: If getting as part of a meal with other stuff, get the “medium” – I had a bit of a challenge trying to finish it!

I finished with an iced coffee with sweetened, condensed milk.  It was good, but this is fairly difficult to mess-up.  I give it a B.  It wasn’t exceptional, but it wasn’t bad either

My split was $22 USD before tax and tip, including a Tiger beer.  Value-wise, that’s good.  In general, the ingredient quality is excellent, but the attention to detail during the preparation process falls a little short.  The service was good, and everyone seemed quite well-intentioned.  I’ve been there before, and I’ll go again in the future.  It’s taken be about half-a-dozen visits to figure out what I like here and what I don’t

Three out of four grinning monkeys

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