The setting and presentations are extraordinary, just like the An family story, and now you can dine your way through Chef Helene An’s most personal journey.
If you have spent any time dining in the Beverly Hills area, you will know that Crustacean has become a local institution. Founder and Chef Helene (Mama) An is often referred to as the “mother of fusion cuisine” and her signature garlic noodles are a favorite dish of everyone from George Clooney to Leonardo DiCaprio.
The brand-new concept Da Lat Rose has actually been a passion project of the seasoned chef for quite some time but this new culinary experience is not another multi-course tasting menu. This is a gastronomic-biography of Chef An’s dramatic life events as a Vietnamese refugee to her rise in the California culinary world.
“When I came to America, I never thought I could open a restaurant like this,” Chef An told the Courier. “For the past few years I thought a lot about future generations and my grandchildren. This is for them and to share our culture with our guests over the years. Now that I think the public is ready, I want to share my dream. My family and I want to do something that honors what we went through to get here and encourage others to tell their stories.”
Located via a private side entrance, upon reaching the top of the stairs above her famed Crustacean restaurant, the bar area is like entering a secret drinking den off the Old Quarter in Hanoi and not off Bedford Drive.
The bar name pays homage to Vietnam’s traditional neighborhood beer hubs called Bia Hoi. Even the chic décor was sourced in Vietnam such as the tables inspired by street food vendors with hidden drawers that hold the venue’s signature micro-brew beer and beer-based bottles cocktails. The snacks in this section feature grilled razor clams, bamboo rice and spot prawns that you dip into a candle that is actually lemongrass garlic butter with bird eye chili salt just be careful of the burning wick. Different authentically crafted drinks are also presented such as the Limeade with a rice vodka concoction served in a plastic bag with a straw.
While Crustacean has long been held in high regard as the pinnacle of Vietnamese fusion, the chef’s beginnings were fraught with struggles after being born into an aristocratic family just outside of Hanoi. The menu and sequence of dishes starts with her birth in 1944, and course-by- course you will take a historic tour of how Vietnamese people were affected by World War II, the Rise of Communism and the Vietnam War, and ultimately ending up as refugees in America.
While the subject matter might be serious, the environment in the lounge is social and buzzy with historic images projected in black and white just over the bar that is meant to set up the anticipation for the next stop “down the street” for dinner.
Once the more casual portion of your evening is complete, you will be led by a host over a special air bridge to enter the elegant main dining room that seats 40. Custom built rickshaw-inspired carts are attached to dining tables and conical (Asian rice) hat is also part of the décor.
The 12-course tasting menu features those famous garlic noodles but now they are topped with Santa Barbara sea urchin and a 24k gold leaf called “The American Dream.” Yes, the food is incredible but each dish represents a different stage of Chef An’s life and her rags to riches ascent in America. The presentation and detail in each serving vessel is extraordinary such as the hand-carved custom wood statue holding a single bite of King crab topped with Royal Keluga caviar called “The Union” which represents the chef’s marriage.
As for Chef An’s favorite dish, “Of course the garlic noodles because it means so much to mine and my family’s survival. But on this menu, I really like the Pork Cheek Tit Kho. Tit Kho is a traditional, humbled, home celebration dish for my family so [Executive] Chef Tony and I collaborated on this to make something truly unique.”
This is one of the most interesting and inspiring experiences happening in Los Angeles at the moment and not just for the food. For each course, your servers will honor the Vietnamese tradition of storytelling with an oral introduction on the background and inspiration for the dish.
“This project is so personal because we crafted everything to be symbolic of the journey,” she said. “While it is my
gastro-biography, it truly represents so much more of the life, art and culture from my homeland. It shares the stories of other people who also went through what I did and celebrates what they brought to this country. All of the elements of the restaurant from the design to the dishes to the cocktail all tell the story and we are all very excited for people to come along on this journey with us.”
As a young girl, Helene An and her family were forced to evacuate Hanoi and lived as peasant farmers, until the French helped them back to royalty status. When she was 11-years-of-age, the Communists took over leading them to seek refuge in Saigon before eventually settling in Da Lat. This is where Helene attended finishing school and mastered French and home-entertaining etiquette; her weekends were spent living with Buddhist monks and learning their cuisine. In the mid-to-late 1950s Helene married a wealthy man and the pair had three daughters – Hannah, Elizabeth, and Monique. The family had three chefs, French, Vietnamese and Chinese, who exposed Helene to their individual cuisines.
During the Fall of Saigon in 1975, the Ans fled the country and settled in San Francisco – all living together in a one-bedroom apartment above a deli. Within the first year, Helene quickly learned English and received her CPA and was an accountant by day and ran the deli at night. The deli eventually became Thanh Long restaurant where she began to create and perfect the famous Dungeness crab and garlic noddle dishes that would one day be lauded at Crustacean in Beverly Hills.
Chef An’s story magnifies the plight of Vietnamese-Americans to adapt in their new land and serves as a prism through which the Vietnamese-American Diaspora can be better understood. In her 40-plus-year career, she was first to introduce Vietnamese flavors to mainstream America, forever changing their palates with cuisine that honors both cultures.
To celebrate her culinary contributions, Chef An was recently presented with the Pioneer Award in Culinary Arts by the Smithsonian Institute in their first- ever Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center celebration.
Four generations of An women have kept the family business running for over 40 years with Chef An at the helm and her daughter Elizabeth as CEO. With a desire to further Vietnamese traditions and heritage, as well as the Asian Diaspora as a whole as her legacy, Chef An will continue to oversee the culinary direction of the An Family projects and shift her focus to mentoring talented chefs who share her mission. Alongside her granddaughter, the family plans to create a fund to invest in chefs who celebrate ethnicity in America.
For more information:
If you would like to experience this incredible evening at Bar Bia Hoi and Da Lat Rose, there will be one seating on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m. and two seatings at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The high-end Vietnamese tasting also encompasses an eight-seat chef counter and a private room for 18. The tasting price is $225 per person and opens to the public on Nov. 6, 2019. Longtime Crustacean Executive Chef Tony Nguyen will be taking over the concept after one year and adding his own twists.
466 N. Bedford Drive, Beverly Hills 310-998-7919