An ancient Italian spaghetti western grumbled in the background. Every now and then the sound of gunfire. I couldn’t help but look to catch the action on the TV mounted high in the corner of the dining room. Somehow it seemed the perfect background distraction for a Sunday dinner of pho and shrimp pork lettuce wraps at Saigon Seafood, Lahaina.
We had ducked in through the back door just before closing time, our hair still wet after a shower following a busy and satisfying Maui day at the beach. All we wanted, needed, was tucking into some restorative broth before beginning the work week anew.
We felt at home in this foreign language land. A few patrons popped in to pick up carry-out orders, looking similarly fatigued after a hard day in the surf, in search of a cup of comfort in a take-out container. One family, so local I couldn’t make out their chatter, giggled and laughed through their meal as if this was the best day of their lives. They had arrived even later than we and were nevertheless welcomed and attended to as if the place had only just opened. Joanne, the restaurateur, was bright eyed, still taking orders at 9 pm.
Joanne rules the scene with motherly love, not the cheerful, smothering, you’re so precious sort of mothering, but rather the “Eat it! It’s good for you! Here, let me do that!” sort of motherly. I had asked for advice on how to pack the ideal lettuce wrap when she took over, slicing through the delicate egg and bean sprout pancake, wrapping it up in a perfect lettuce leaf bundle with fresh mint, basil, radish and sauce. “Or, just use a fork,” she shrugged. When it was time to go, she systematically puts all leftovers in a carry-out carton – wouldn’t think of having things any other way.
She’s obviously as meticulous with the food preparation. Having suggested we try Chow Funn in a soupy version, along with our Pho and lettuce wraps, we followed orders and were rewarded with the best, the most mouthwatering broth we’ve ever tasted. Rich chicken broth, plentiful chunks of white meat chicken, slithery, slurp-worthy noodles and an assortment of Asian style veggies swimming al dente in the broth flavored with out-of-this world seasonings. How is it that Vietnamese cooking starts with the most humble ingredients and transforms them into gourmet masterpieces?
I suppose with Saigon Seafood around, we won’t worry about “how.” We’ll merely focus on “when!”