Helene An, master chef and creator of the Crustacean and House of An empire, opened her long-awaited and most exclusive restaurant yet on Wednesday, October 30. Each dish and drink on the elevated tasting menu is a piece of her personal gastrobiography, dating back to childhood and her journey to America as a Vietnam War refugee in 1971 after losing her family fortune and being given just hours to get on a flight out of Saigon.
When she landed in the U.S. at Camp Pendleton, she knew one family member in San Francisco and headed north with her young daughters in tow. Soon she was working three jobs, including one in a small Italian deli owned by her mother in law, Diana An (bought on a lark years prior during a vacation). She gradually introduced Vietnamese dishes to the Italian neighborhood and eventually turned the restaurant into Thang Long, the first Vietnamese restaurant in the United States.
The An culinary empire now includes four restaurants in Southern California, including AnQi, Tiato, Crustacean and, now, Da Lat Rose, which opens above Crustacean in Beverly Hills this week, as well as restaurants in Northern California that include Thanh Long and Crustacean San Francisco, in addition to An Catering. At Crustacean Beverly Hills and Da Lat Rose upstairs, An works side-by-side with her longtime, brilliant protégé, executive chef Tony Nguyen, on the menu which features new culinary techniques and flavors that redefine her interpretation of modern Asian cuisine.
The evening experience starts in the Bia Hoi cocktail lounge, where guests are introduced to each other and have a taste of Vietnamese beer culture and appetizers that include the Raft to Refuge Santa Barbara spot prawns, which diners dip into table candles filled with lemongrass garlic butter, alongside house-brewed rice beer. Inspiration for the dish comes from when An and family fled on a raft with all of their possessions to Saigon during the conflict between the communists and the French.
The journey continues “down the street” into the main dining room which overlooks the Crustacean bar below. The Union is a king crab banh khot with coconut bechamel and beluga caviar, which celebrates the day she met her husband and “the most kingly of marriages.” Finding Hope in Guam is a dramatic tableside preparation of red tilefish, fish sauce pesto and spinach, which tells the following tale .
“A life interrupted. As it happened so often in Helene’s life, the scar of war arrives with a vengeance. Forced to flee in minutes, Helene and her family are whisked onto a plane and arrive in Guam. Another new chapter begins. In Guam, refugees of the conflict are struggling but demonstrate the human will to survive. Frying any fish they can becomes a common sight on the streets. This dish pays tribute to those times, those people and their spirit.”
The signature Crustacean garlic noodles topped with Santa Barbara sea urchin and a small crown of 24 karat gold dubbed “The American Dream” have also made it into the extensive prix fixe mix.
The entire menu is a nostalgic celebration of An’s life, performed tableside on a nightly basis through her food and place in culinary history, interpreted through Nguyen’s own Vietnamese vision, which he recently discussed in detail on the L.A. Weekly Podcast.
Six years in the making, the 40-seat restaurant with an open kitchen includes an eight-seat chef’s counter and a private room for 18. They will offer a 7 p.m. seating on Wednesday and Thursday and seatings at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Dessert spoons, placemats and other dinnerware on the Da Lat Rose tables come from Vietnamese craftsmen from the indigenous Hmong and Dzao tribes, which help support local women and their communities.
Four generations of An women run the family business started by matriarch Diana An in 1971. House of An’s executive team includes Master Chef Helene An, her daughters Elizabeth An (CEO), Catherine An (founder of Tiato & An Catering) and Monique An (managing director of Northern California locations) and granddaughter Bosilika An, who recently joined as director of concept development to spearhead the opening of new locations globally.
Known as the rose of her hometown of Da Lat in Vietnam, Helene An received the Pioneer Award in Culinary Arts from the Smithsonian earlier this year and was named Planned Parenthood Los Angeles’s 2019 Food Fare Chef of the Year.
Da Lat Rose, 466 North Bedford Drive, Beverly Hills; exploretock.com/dalatrose/.