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Off the Path Perfection
Finding stellar Asian cuisine in a Harvey strip mall
We were starving. It was late on a Saturday afternoon and the two of us were the only people in Hong Minh, save for three generations of the extended Vietnamese-Chinese family who own the unassuming place and their children who were playing quietly by the cash register next to the whole roasted ducks hanging in the window.
A notification written in English, Chinese and Vietnamese informed that within two days the family would be leaving to vacation in California for a month and the restaurant would be closed. We took the diversity of the establishment’s clientele as a good omen.
Located in an old strip mall behind a Best Buy, the exterior of Hong Minh doesn’t impress. It looks tiny from the outside, but once you make it a few feet inside of the door a maze of rooms packed with bright decorations and bare-topped linoleum tables comes in to view. I suspect this place is packed with regulars who look nothing like my white bread self on weekend evenings.
Ravenous and out of control, we ordered half of the menu. Our server gave us the side-eyed look you get when someone thinks you’re crazy, and soon the entire family, children as well, disappeared into the kitchen and pots started clanging. We were advised that beers were available through the adjacent convenience store. This store was itself an oddity, complete with traditional New Orleans poor boys, real-deal andouille sausage served as a hot dog, Vietnamese pâté and soy-lacquered chicken feet available at the deli, and woks of every size, Mardi Gras paraphernalia, industrial cleaning supplies and an array of international candies keeping time with an impressive selection of craft beers.
Each beautifully plated dish arrived as soon as it left the wok, and the children tried not to stare as we did out best to wipe out every delicious, expertly executed morsel: Roasted pork with shatter-crisp skin kissed with Chinese five spice; crispy salt and pepper chicken wings; Chinese-style shrimp friend rice; crisp pan-fried noodles heaped with shrimp, mussels, crab and squid in a light white sauce; fresh, translucent spring rolls filled with shrimp and roasted pork; a dish of garden fresh vegetables sautéed with silken tofu; and a large bowl of wonton noodle soup, the wontons themselves origami-like pillows that burst forth a savory broth at the slightest bite.
It should go without saying that we left with to-go containers heaped with enough to share for days. As I paid the $57.11 bill for this fresh, deftly prepared meal of authentic Vietnamese and Chinese specialties, the wise man behind the counter advised that I ask about the off-menu specialties the next time I come back. This cannot happen soon enough.
Chef Isaac Toups’ Toups South in Central City, New Orleans recently appointed Thea Sasseen to the position of sommelier and unveiled a new wine list with creative world-class picks featuring $25 bottles of wines available all day.
The new wine program at Toups South is entirely domestic featuring mostly boutique wines, many of them bio-dynamic and organic, “if not in certification, at least in practice,” says Sasseen. “These wines are pure and expressive, and most of all, many of these are small producers.
On Wine Wednesdays (WW) Sasseen will showcase a rotating selection of wines aimed at highlighting good value and unique varietals, while complementing Toups’ creative southern dishes.
Toups South is also offering Happy Hour every day except Tuesdays and Sundays – from 3-6 p.m. with $5 wine-by-the-glass and $6 signature cocktails, as well as small plates from $5-$15. Also new to Happy Hour is the Set Up where guests can play bartender. Each Set Up comes with a choice of spirit served in a 6 oz. flask for $17 or a 7 oz. bottle for $20 accompanied by a choice of house made soda (cola, root beer, pineapple and grapefruit, or the rotating weekly concoction).
2101 Eighth St., Harvey, 592-7316
1504 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 304-2147, ToupsSouth.com