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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Thing 106: The Eden Center

The Eden Center: Ramen

As we sat in the dark karaoke bar, neon lighting dancing across the walls, Jenny leaned over and shouted into my ear "I feel like we've boarded a place, and landed in Saigon. It feels like we've travelled. And we are in a strip mall in Virginia."

The Eden Center
The wonder of the Eden Center -- the tiny strip mall in Falls Church comprised entirely of Vietnamese business -- is how completey unique it is within such a completely non-descript setting. The same tan brick exterior, the same row of shops, the same glowing orange signs above each business, except these signs say "Hong Viet" and "Huang Que" and inside the shops are eastern delicacies that I'd never dreamed of.

I spent a Saturday evening their recently, first perusing the aisles of a Vietnamese grocery and buying all manner of dried kobu, dried fungus, rice noodles, jasmine tea and something called spicy fried gluten. Each shelf held a wealth of products that I had to keep myself from buying, intrigued and simultaneously lost, having no experience in how to cook most everything I encountered.

The Eden Center: Fish in a Jar
Then we moved on to dinner, at the famous "Huong Que" or Four Sister Restaurant. This establishment has a wall full of accolades, all manner of restaurant critics who ostensibly know better than I do what "authentic" is calling the place authentic. It certainly is delicious, although nearly impossible to decide on what to eat with an epic menu that encompasses 200+ dishes of every conceivable combination. Clay pots and pho, rice crepes and rice noodles, fish and pork and chicken abounds and it is hard to narrow it down. The clay pot spare ribs were really tasty, as was the lemon grass chicken and the shredded pork spring rolls, but I am in a hurry to go back and see what else stands out from the long and exciting menu.

The Eden Center: Four Sisters
Finally, after dinner we wanted another drink before heading back to the western world, and strolled down to the corner of the strip mall that advertised karaoke and drinks. Wow. Just, wow. A live band of drums, synthesizer and bass backed up Vietnamese pop karaoke, as steadily more Vietnamese people of all ages streamed in to eat, drink, dance and sing. Our waitress really wanted us to sing some "American" songs, but in the end we were too intimidated by the truly soulful and party hopping Vietnamese version of LaBamba we were treated to, to try anything ourselves.

And even after a very full evening of shopping, eating and drinking, there is still so much more to see and eat. There are bakeries and delis that we poked our head into that sell huge, pillowy dumplings with BBQ pork, and round gelatinous rice cakes filled with something that I need to find out about. There are still other restaurants, and a karaoke bar called XXX. I will be back, soon, for another round of eating and exotic ingredients. So much cheaper than a plane ticket to Saigon.

See what I made with my Vietnamese ingredients! Join me over at the Cork & Knife.

Coming up:
Urban Dare.


Joe said...

Four Sisters is a very good spot. You can always ask for Hoa (pronounced Wa), the executive chef and brother of the Four Sisters, to recommend something. I never order from the menu. I just tell him to bring me something good.

Stay in touch with the restaurant because they'll be making a move soon to the new town center in Merrifield a couple miles west on Route 50.