Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mỹ Linh

The other night I went out for a meal at one of my favorite restaurants in Albany—Mỹ Linh. It is an excellent Vietnamese restaurant with a fascinating history. The family that runs Mỹ Linh escaped from Vietnam during the Vietnam War and came to Albany in 1979. After years of saving they first opened Mỹ Linh in 1993 and still manage the restaurant.

On the night of my most recent visit I went for two of my favorite dishes: Chã Giò (fried rolls) for the appetizer and Vit Rút Xu’o’ng (crispy duck) for the entrée. We also selected an item from their new teaser plate menu—Su’o ’n Ram, which are bite-size pork ribs that are simmered in a sweet, caramelized nuoc mam sauce and finished with scallions. The pork was nice and tender, and the sauce was slightly sweet but not cloying.

Chã Giò are definitely my favorite appetizer at Mỹ Linh. The rolls are lightly fried to crisp and are stuffed with a succulent filling of minced pork, shrimp, and vegetables. The rolls are accompanied by lettuce, cucumber, carrot, and mint. You take each roll and wrap it in the lettuce and other vegetables and then dip it all in a nuoc mam sauce. The rolls are crispy and warm and the vegetables are cool and refreshing—together they create the perfect appetizer for a Vietnamese meal.

Many of the dishes are served with nuoc mam sauce. The restaurant’s Web sites describes nuoc mam as “a clear piquant sauce” and says “it is almost broth-like in its intriguing delicacy.” This sauce “does not shout at you. Rather, it speaks softly of gentle breezes and moonlit nights.” Poetry in a sauce—delicious! The Web site also explains that nuoc mam is to Vietnam as soy sauce is to China or Japan. I’m not sure exactly how Mỹ Linh creates this delightful sauce, but nuoc mam usually contains lime juice, fish sauce, red pepper flakes, sugar, rice vinegar, and garlic. The resulting sauce is light and subtle yet incredibly flavorful. You can even buy Mỹ Linh’s signature sauces on their Web site.

To accompany the tasty dishes I ordered a Mỹ Linh Martini. This drink is a concoction of Bombay Sapphire gin and salted lime juice with garnishes of salted lime rind and lemongrass. Usually this drink perfectly complements the flavors of Vietnamese food, but something went horribly wrong with the drink on this particular night. The culprit: too much salted lime juice. All I could taste was salt—it was as though the bartender had filled the glass with ocean water rather than gin. The waiter was kind enough to replace the drink with a new one, but he didn’t seem to grasp the idea that a subtle balance could be reached between no salted lime juice and too much, so I just ordered the martini minus the salted lime juice. I still highly recommend this beverage as I’ve had it before with no issues, but from now on I think I’ll ask them to go easy on the salted lime juice just to be safe.

I first went to Mỹ Linh when I was a kid, and that was when I discovered that I loved duck. I’ve had various excellent meals at Mỹ Linh, but by far my favorite is Vit Rút Xu’o’ng, which is half of a boneless duck that is marinated with lemongrass, garlic, and wine. The duck is pan fried until it is nice and crispy and served with a spicy nuoc mam sauce, perfumed rice, and broccoli. Because of the high-fat content of duck, I always believe it is best when chefs leave the skin and let is get extra crispy—Mỹ Linh always does it right.

My boyfriend got Bò Bõn Món, a dish of four different styles of beef. These four styles are beef wrapped around sugarcane and grilled, beef seasoned with lemongrass and served with green peppers, beef marinated with plum sauce and red pepper, and New York strip steak marinated with garlic and grilled with black pepper. These variations on beef were served with a spicy dipping sauce. My boyfriend enjoyed all the styles except the beef with sugarcane. I've had this dish before and think it's an excellent choice for a red-meat lover.

I highly recommend Mỹ Linh to anyone who loves food. The flavors of the cuisine are always light, delicate, and flavorful—never heavy or greasy. If you’ve never had Vietnamese food, this restaurant is definitely the place to try it for the first time. You can check out the Web site and menu here:

My Linh - A Vietnamese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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