>> Wednesday, October 10, 2012
What is mellow? A dining experience at Ba Noi's may very well come straight out of a Twilight Zone episode or any minute of the Aquarium channel, perfectly complemented with a glass of green mango shake, of course.
C and I share a deep love for hot and sour pho, as deep as leaving a restaurant in tears once after finding out the dish was not available. There was no point to continue--absolutely no point.
Hoping to get a taste of the real deal, we planned a trip to Vietnam with some friends several years back. But fate wasn't on our side. The airline had problems with its Vietnam flights and cancelled all bookings. And so we push on scouring Manila for the best pho. It is not easy not because there isn't any good pho here but because one has already captured our hearts.
But we aren't closing our doors. We're not letting our emotions get in the way of the noble search for the best. So, we visited Ba Noi's, a Vietnamese restaurant in the heart of the Makati Central Business Dristrict and one that my friend K had been recommending.
The place, quite small in fact, can be half-full for early dinner but gets packed come meal time. Upon arriving, I saw a few occupied tables, and a big group of, uh, mature friends almost done with their meal at a long table in the middle of the restaurant.
This is one of my curses: my ears hear everything. No, I don't eavesdrop. Sound coming from as far as several tables away just enters my ears uninvited.
But the things I heard from the big group are, at the very least, inspiring. They were talking about Vietnam, Cambodia, Angkor Wat, food, travels.
And I can see why. Ba Noi's interiors--the dark brown tables and chairs, red terra cotta floor tiles and black-and-white photos of Vietnam (Who is the photographer?), among others--set the mood for such conversations. I almost chimed in with my obsession with the musical Miss Saigon.
The food matches the mellow, almost Zen-like ambiance of the place. Goi Cuon (Php 200), "pork, shrimp and vermicelli attractively rolled in rice paper," is so clean and refreshing that it nearly duplicates the sensation of going to the spa. If you close your eyes, you can imagine standing before a calm beach on a quiet Sunday morning.
Yes, it puts the fresh in fresh spring rolls and goes very well with the accompanying peanut sauce. I can keep coming back just for this appetizer.
|Pho Hai San|
We often complement pho with a rice dish, so we ordered steamed rice and Ga Kho Cari Xa (Php 240), "braised chicken slowly cooked in lemongrass and curry powder, infused with fresh chillies, shallots and spring onions." It is not as hot as the description implies, and the curry is far from bold.
|Ga Kho Cari Xa|
There is a dominant theme in the restaurant. The flavors echo the peace and quiet of the surroundings. The soft yellow lights add to the romantic, muted ambiance. And with everyone's hushed tone, the place transforms into a sanctuary that takes over your energy--definitely a stark contrast to the urban jungle right outside the door. Inside, I feel calm, so calm as if someone slipped me a Valium before entering. (It wouldn't hurt if the servers are nice and friendly too.)
Time at Ba Noi's is much slower, almost at a standstill. You realize that more when you snap out of it, even for a short period. Coming out of the restroom at the back of the restaurant and seeing the whole of it can be disorienting. For a split-second I didn't know where I was when I did. I had to regain my footing before walking back to our table.
That is the beauty of the place. It transports you to Vietnam or, to people like me who haven't been there, to a place that you'd believe to be Vietnam. Although Ba Noi's wasn't able to steal us away from our favorite hot and sour noodle soup, it wins us over with its "fresh flavors of Vietnam" and arguably "authentic Vietnamese experience".
Ba Noi's is located at GF Greenbelt Mansion, 106 Perea St., Legaspi Village, Makati City.
(Note: All photos here, and in my posts on HIC! cupcakes and Ninyo Fusion Cuisine & Wine Lounge are taken using my 8MP mobile phone camera. The colors are originally muted so I tweaked them a bit. What do you think of the quality? Kinda noisy, I guess, due to the low light. I no longer take my camera with me everywhere, everyday. My shoulders and back are very happy with the reduced cargo. But if I can't take decent food photos, maybe I should bring it more often. I miss the DOF, too.)