Vietnam Bay: From the Mississippi to the Mekong, a delicious cultural collision
From the Mississippi to the Mekong, rice is nice at Vietnam Bay.
Since critic Gretchen Kurtz is on vacation this week, we decided to take regular readers of the Cafe review on a culinary trip of their own: to Federal Boulevard, where Mark Antonation has been eating his way up from the southern edge of Denver. Every Wednesday morning in A Federal Case, which is posted on Cafe Society, Antonation describes another visit to a spot on Federal. Over the past several months, he's treated readers to meals at Taco House, the oldest Mexican restaurant in town that we've found (it's celebrating its 55th birthday this year), as well as noodle joint after taqueria after noodle joint after taqueria.
This week he landed at Vietnam Bay Seafood and Grill, 472 South Federal Boulevard. The pristine white facade and nautical blue logo of this unassuming joint don't give much of a hint at the collision of cuisines within. Like its predecessor Red Claw, Vietnam Bay specializes in Cajun-tinged seafood platters, odd mash-ups of Louisiana flavors with Vietnamese ingredients, and straight-up drinking food accented with delta spirit (whether from the Mississippi or the Mekong) and spice levels dialed up to meet cold beer head-on. Po' boy sandwiches and market-priced crawfish by the pound show obvious Gulf Coast origins. But Vietnam Bay's curried frog legs and savory rice porridges called chao rank among the rarer Vietnamese specialties that he's found along Federal. And he couldn't resist the fish-sauce glazed wings and the gumbo-dumpling hybrid called "gumlings" — dishes fused together with nothing but the kitchen's bravado and knack for reinvented comfort food.
It's no accident that Vietnamese-Cajun seafood joints have spread from Louisiana to places as far away as San Diego, Atlanta and Denver, Antonation notes. A little experimentation, a profound respect for bold flavors and a pioneering spirit have created something new from disparate sources. The French may have placed their stamp on Vietnamese and Cajun cuisines, but Vietnam Bay and other restaurants like it have accomplished something even more delightful by fusing flavors that come alive with many worlds at once, speaking a new language while maintaining authenticity in its truest sense: something genuine and of undisputed origin. That origin is simply the joy of cooking, eating and sharing good food wherever it is found. Read Antonation's full account on Cafe Society, where you'll also find photographer Danielle Lirette's documentation of all the delights of Vietnam Bay.
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