This is part one of Antonio Pacheco's Chef's Choice profile of chef Lynne Truong of Banh Mi So #1 -- Saigon Gourmet. Part two, a Q&A, is here. Part three, a recipe from Truong, can be found here.
Since opening in 1994, Banh Mi So #1 -- Saigon Gourmet (4071 South Grand Boulevard; 314-353-0545) has been less a restaurant and more an extension of the Truong family kitchen. Here Lynne Troung painstakingly hand prepares each dish using time-honored techniques and flavors as inspiration, while her husband, Thomas, manages the garden and takes care of necessary prep work. The couple's son, Dewey, manages the front of the house and acts as restaurant spokesman. It's definitely a family affair.
While south city's go-to Vietnamese spot owes its popularity and acclaim to its bahn mi sandwiches and spring rolls, there is much more to sample on its extensive menu. Perhaps most notably, Dewey has been expanding the establishment's vegetarian options.
On any given day, Banh Mi So's modest dining room is filled with the sound of Vietnamese ballads while Dewey tends to the customers, serving water, taking orders and chatting with patrons regular and new. He offers translations of Vietnamese terms and describes how dishes are prepared. He picks herbs straight from the garden for inclusion in sandwiches, "bypassing refrigeration entirely," he says, emphasizing Bahn Mi So's focus on fresh ingredients. This mentality has carried over from the days when Lynne helped cook for her siblings in Vietnam, where the family often had to manage without refrigeration. "She had to improvise a lot and learn how to use ingredients straight from the garden," says Dewey. "We were underprivileged and had to use tradition as a foundation for making food, using the ingredients we could find."
Running a restaurant has been an education for the Truong family. "We all have learned about many aspects of the restaurant business," Dewey says. "It's not just about making good food." And while antsy customers fill the small space quickly on Friday and Saturday nights, the Truong family executes each dish to order. As the Bahn Mi So website states, "cooking commences when we receive your order. In return for your kind patience, you will be happily rewarded with your dish cooked to PERFECTION!"
Lynne Truong of Banh Mi So #1 Saigon Gourmet, Part 2 Lynne Truong of Banh Mi So #1 Saigon Gourmet: Recipe for Bun Ga Xao