Green Papaya

August 30, 2004

   
 


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Monday, August 30, 2004, 8:02 AM

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Green Papaya, Seattle, WA, February 14, 2004 — I am surprise by how people into food can sometimes not be aware of or into Vietnamese food. The combination of the Southeast Asian ingredients, the freshness of those same ingredients, and the bright and vivid flavors (lime, cilantro, mint, peanut), all make for a delicious cuisine. This would be enough, but often as not, Vietnamese food is also super inexpensive. I love Vietnamese food. I'm by no means an expert, but I do eat it quite a bit.  There was nothing particularly unique looking or sounding about Green Papaya, but for some reason we found our way there one night. And we were happy we did.

They offered a Valentine's day "Pre-Fixe" [sic] Menu which I thought was cool. Not many Vietnamese places would do that. We ordered a la carte but grabbed a few dishes from the set menu as well. It was nice that they were flexible that way. Things started off with Goi Cuon - steamed Tiger prawns, sliced pork, mint, bean sprouts, rice vermicelli, and lettuce rolled in thin rice paper and served with peanut and hot sauce. This is a classic, often called Fresh Rolls or Salad Rolls at Vietnamese restaurants. And I love it dearly. I was a little nervous as they called them White Tiger Rolls (my interpretation was that they were reaching out to the non-experienced Vietnamese food eater - this worries me as they might try to bridge the gap not just in name but in their cooking). For all I know Goi Cuon may actually mean "white tiger" but I don't think so. Either way it wasn't an issue as the rolls were right, fresh, beautiful, and yummy.

We also got Lemongrass Shrimp Skewers - minced shrimp, chili, onion, and lemongrass wrapped around lemongrass skewers. These were also quite good with what tasted to me like a sugary flavor (I thought the skewers were sugar cane, not lemongrass, but maybe I was wrong). DebDu and Peyman had one nit that the peanut sauce came cold instead of room temperature. I honestly don't know what the right thing is, and in fact I think I prefer it cold. So, who's to say... (Peyman was also annoyed at the Opera playing on the sound system, so he really was having some kind of issue that day.) We also had some beef on sticks which had a soft flavor, and a nice texture - not overcooked.

(The following is a bit of a generalization but still rings true.) Vietnamese salads (and Vietnamese dishes in general) are a lot like Mexican dishes in that you often see the same ingredients in slightly different combinations. When you have incredible ingredients this doesn't bother me in the least. Why wouldn't you want to come up with every possible combination so you could keep eating the same great stuff. We ordered three salads total: The Green Papaya Salad, Auntie Dung's Hand Shredded Chicken Salad, and the Green Apple and Mango Salad with Angus Beef (from the Valentine's menu). The first two were sort of bland and disappointing. I won't even comment on the unfortunately named Auntie Dung. But the Green Apple and Mango Salad with Angus Beef was truly special. The beef was tender and delicious. The accompaniments were tangy, sweet, and fruity. Great.

Again we ordered off the special menu, this time Shrimp Wonton Soup. The soup was a ginger consommé. The soup had a warm flavor with a really nice oily quality. The dumplings were soft, tender, and delicious. The onions in it were a nice touch and the broth had complex flavors on the finish. Really more than I expected from shrimp wonton soup.

A few more dishes rounded out the meal. These included: Tiger Prawns with Tamarind Sauce - Tom Rang Me; Saigon Beef Rolls - Bo Cuon Hanh Huong; Beef Stew - Bo Kho; Ginger and Onion Sea Bass. I realize this may expose me as uncultured or narrow-minded, but I really am not into eating shrimp shells. And yes, they warned me the prawns would come in shell. But they're just too crunchy for me. I feel like I'm eating  cartilage. (For all I know those shells are some form of cartilage - ok, they are, I checked.) That said, the shrimp did have a nice flavor and tasted really fresh. The beef rolls were neat and interesting - beef wrapped tightly around green onions. They came out crunchy and flavorful. The beef stew was a mix - the broth was complex and flavorful, but the beef itself was bland. The sea bass was tasty, even though the sweet sauce overwhelmed the delicate fish. More balance would have been good. The coconut sticky rice on the side had an awesome coconut-y flavor. Yum.

In my head, my dream Vietnamese restaurant is authentic, likely a Pho restaurant, downscale, and delicious. Having never been to Vietname, Green Papaya seemed authentic. And in fact I liked that they had such a variety of dishes. One of them wasn't Pho but that shouldn't take away from their delicious soup. The restaurant wasn't hyper-cheap like most Vietnamese places, but wasn't expensive by any means. And it really was delicious. Though it didn't conform to my vision, it was actually really good. I need to go back soon.


 

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