Monday, March 7, 2011

Au Lac Healthy World Vegetarian Restaurant

**As of April 2011, Au Lac no longer has a location at 249 Hai Ba Trung.  Like many things in Saigon, it proved to be ephemeral and is now an empty carcass waiting for a new enterprise to set up shop. We still highly recommend eating at their other locations.**

Near the intersection of Hai Ba Trung and Vo Thi Sau, one can find Au Lac Healthy World 6, a multi-story beast of a vegan restaurant.  With my recent attempt at vegetarianism (only spoiled once by an impromptu visit to the nefarious KFC) and Gavin's flippy-floppy history with ethical eating, we knew we had to enter this wonder of modern architecture (sarcasm applied).  Healthy World is actually a chain, the 247 Hai Ba Trung location being their sixth restaurant in greater Saigon.

Per norm, acquiring food was an arduous event.  A perplexing ordering system that resembled a shopping mall food court in 2030, a flurry of overzealous staff breathing down our necks, and a lack of  Vietnamese on our part all combined to forge a pounding headache in the dank recesses of our skulls.  Frustration immediately ensued, tempers rose, and then... we noticed a sole Buddhist monk dining at a nearby table with an ear-to ear smile.  Our collective ire quickly flared out as we simultaneously observed this specimen of asceticism.  After floating down from our high horses, regaining composure, enduring embarrassment, and finding the strength to make an informed food order; we sheepishly made our way to a modern table.

While waiting for our dishes to be prepared, we had a gander at the small, connected retail shop.  The walls were lined with giant freezers containing every kind of vegan imitation-meat you could think of.  Many were run of the mill: chicken, meatballs, pork and fish; however, there was a shocking amount of hilarious and novel faux-meat items such as monkey balls, pig's feet, tripe, etc.

We splurged on vegan dried squid (a great beer match) and some much needed BBQ sauce for the house.  Behold an assortment of vegan Slim Jim flavors:

By the time our meals arrived, we were ready to dig in.  We ordered sturdy chunks of fried tofu smothered in a rich and tangy tamarind sauce to start with.

Gavin got a mixed broken rice plate: shredded pork, fried duck, fish cake and veggies.  All vegan, all delicious.  I have to say the duck was my favorite.

I ordered vegan sushi as I couldn't pass it up!  One roll was faux-unagi (eel). It was especially tasty.  Unfortunately, they covered all the pieces with some sort of mayo-like substance, which may have added to the overall appearance, but not its taste.  It was an interesting take on sushi, but I wouldn't order it again.

At some point during our meal, a manager who spoke English appeared to inform us that we were dining in the fast food part of the restaurant; albeit, a traditional restaurant opened upstairs in the evenings.  There are some tables and an uber-modern conveyor belt system for hot-pot dining.  I have never seen lẩu done quite like this.  Fake meats and vegetables drift by your table and you cook them at your leisure in your own personal bowl of steaming broth! After having a look upstairs, we decided next time we'll enjoy the fine dining experience.

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