Michael Bao Huynh is still at Bún, kind of, or perhaps as much as he ever was, I’m not sure.
“He’s my brother,” said Tony Lam, who owns the place and does the food. Huynh’s a partner there, but his day-to-day involvement is minimal, except perhaps when Tony’s out of town. And maybe not then, either. (click here if you’re curious about this topic, otherwise read on as I am about to change the subject).
Because although Tony conceptualizes the food, he trains cooks to cook. He doesn’t do it himself.
Bún has a new publicist (Susan Rike), and often with a new publicist comes a new round of press dinners.
Susan’s press-dinner style is to round up four to eight journalists and bring them all to dinner at once, in a group. She tends to do three such dinners per restaurant.
Group dinners can, of course, be deadly, but there’s always the off-chance that you’ll meet someone interesting at them, and I have met a number of interesting people at Susan Rike dinners. She tends to draw an eclectic group.
I already knew (and like) the three other journalists at dinner last night, and so I could focus on getting to know Tony Lam, the Sino-Vietnamese owner, born in Saigon, spending formative years living in and then running refugee camps in Malaysia, and then going to college and becoming a merchant.
Tony kind of reminded me of my former boss and (former) guru Pansak Vinyaratn, who ran the magazine, and later the newspaper, that I worked for in Bangkok. He would wax philosophical about things and discuss them in mercurial ways that made you wonder whether he was really smart, borderline crazy or just messing with you.
But I ended up staying and listening to him talk about his approach to ambient music and his food background until after the other journalists had left, and until after Susan had left.
After dessert of pandan panna cotta (very much like the bay leaf panna cotta I had at Fireside; this might be a trend) and sweet coconut-banana tapioca, he ordered some cuttlefish for me to try.
Tony served us lots of things that weren't on the menu, including raw green guava (underripe, the way they like it in Southeast Asia) with dried plum powder. That was sort of an intermezzo after the sweet-and-sour fish, if I remember correctly, which actually came after the lamb chops with eggplant, pear chutney and anise sauce.
Tony also interspersed the menu with drinks, including a couple of flaming shots that we were supposed to drink quickly through straws. The problem with that is that if you're not quick about it your drink tastes like melting plastic, but I was quick.
We also had a pretty remarkable Piña Colada flavored with crushed mint, giving it a cooling effect that somehow was in no way minty. In a cocktail that I think he called the Poison Ruby, lychee liqueur was made to taste even more lychee-like with the addition of rosewater.