Omnivore - Man devours dinner, declares it 'not bad'

A visit to Chateau de Saigon

I'm always curious to learn how people from other cultures rate the "authenticity" of local restaurants that serve their native cuisine. So I dragged my friend Long, who immigrated to the US from Vietnam when he was a kid, to Chateau de Saigon on Buford Highway last Friday.

I let Long do the ordering and our only bit of contention was over the sweet and sour catfish soup. I'm not fond of catfish in any form but fried and resisted ordering the soup. But Long waxed nostalgically about his mother's version of this dish and said the meal would not be complete without soup. Sufficiently guilted, I agreed to order it.

The soup's broth — sour from tamarind and sweet from pineapple — was indeed delicious and full of vegetables. I let Long have all the fish, which he devoured completely.

"How do you like it?" I asked.

"It's not bad," he said. Long is a lawyer and lawyers don't like to commit to anything too completely.

"I think it's great," I said. "You have eaten all the fish."

"It's good, yeah," he said.

We also ordered the restaurant's papaya salad with shrimp and pork (above). It's served with shrimp toast, with which you can scoop the juicy salad. Long also pronounced it "not bad," as he did our third dish, pork cooked in a clay pot with fish sauce and honey. "Really, it's not bad," he said, snatching every morsel from each plate.

I learned a couple of new things about Vietnamese dining. Long said that the Vietnamese eat dishes in succession; they do not sample more than one dish at a time in the rice bowl out of which they eat. Nothing is eaten from a plate, only from the tiny bowl. This wasn't news to me but I routinely ignore the rule, preferring to take a bite of this and a bite of that. I shall amend my ways.

(Photo by Cliff Bostock)