Tuesday, April 23, 2013 , Updated 6:00 p.m., April 23, 2013
“Wild women on a mission” open new Vietnamese restaurant Mot Hai Ba
Unusual dishes include frog legs fried with dill, but guests will also recognize classics like pho and banh mi. We chronicle some of the chefs adventures just before the restaurant opens.
DALLAS When it comes to culinary twists and turns, Jeana Johnson and Colleen O’Hare are the wild women of East Dallas. The co-owners/chefs behind Good 2 Go Taco -- who also lend their talents and kitchen to the adjacent Goodfriend Beer Garden and Burger House during hours when Good 2 Go isn't open -- Johnson and O'Hare have already taken quintessential American fare to new heights in Dallas. Starting today, however, they've branched out from tacos and burgers into cuisine relatively unknown in the local dining market when their new endeavor, Mot Hai Ba, opens in Lakewood.
Inspired by the 1,000 year old street food the pair encountered on motorcycle trips across northern and central Vietnam, Mot Hai Ba (pronounced mo’oht high bah) will feature authentic Vietnamese fare with strong French and Chinese influences, in a setting designed to feel cozy and intimate.
The small venue -- which seats 30 inside and 20 on the patio -- will pair its authentic menu with an all-French wine list and French, Belgian, and Asian beers.
Those familiar with the pair's previous offerings know their emphasis on locally sourced, farm-to-table ingredients, so it is natural to wonder how the new endeavor will meet the challenge of keeping it local when so many of the ingredients, such as seafood and palm sugar, aren't as readily available locally.
"We were riding around northern Vietnam and seeing unique dishes that aren't really represented in Dallas right now," Johnson said. "There are some farm-to-table ingredients, but that did present a challenge we weren't used to."
But Johnson and O'Hare have adventuresome spirits. Johnson recalled a night in a little village near Hanoi where the chef allowed them to sit on a mat and watch as their meal was prepared. During that meal, and because of her curiosity, Johnson was offered a specialty -- enormous cassava-based balls similar to tapioca.
"They had a texture that Americans aren't exactly fond of," she said, laughing. "With a kind of snot-like broth. It was my intro to thinking, 'Just eat the snot broth and don't offend anyone.'"
But, from that first meal, Johnson and O'Hare were fascinated. Along the Vietnamese trails, they dodged ambling water buffaloes, stray dogs and ducks, and denizens drying beans in the middle of roads.
During the pair's most recent trip -- during which they brought along long-time employee Stewart Jameson -- Johnson discovered another surprise.
"Our friend told us if we wanted a truly authentic, legitimate Vietnamese experience, he'd take us to this spot in Hanoi. During the meal, our server takes a small vial of oil and uses a bamboo stick to swirl a little into our broth," Johnson explained. "It smelled just like Fruit Loops, but when I asked our friend what it was, he said, 'Don't worry about it.'"
She Googled it later to find it was oil from a giant water bug. "And, now we know the secret ingredient in Fruit Loops..." she joked.
Despite Johnson and O'Hare's local reputation, one has to wonder if Dallas is ready for a new spot with such wild choices, or if they have tempered their discoveries for a less adventurous audience.
"The menu is definitely not dumbed down," Johnson said. "Granted, it's a little hard to get giant water bug oil here, so you're safe from that! But, [the menu is] full of surprises."
Some of those surprises aren't found on many, if any, local menus. Among the most unusual dishes are frog legs fried with dill; braised oxtail with tomato, star anise, and lemongrass; and banana flower salad with chicken. Guests will, however, recognize a few favorites such as pho, banh mi (similar to sub sandwiches), and barbecued 5-spice chicken wings.
Mot Hai Ba opens on April 23 at 11 a.m. at 6047 Lewis Street in Dallas. Check out its Facebook page for additional information.
See more stories in:
- UPDATED: Austin's Houndstooth Coffee heads to
- DFW reality TV stars to perform in Dallas Arboretum series
- Photos: Ever seen a bedroom closet with a coffee bar and refrigerator?
- Not-so-polite play Profanity premieres September 10 at Undermain Theatre
- Photos: Oh yes, Dallas has its own Naked Cowboy