My Beef with Indochine

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The short ribs are irresistible at Da Nang in Clawson.

Sometimes, you keep coming back to one particular restaurant for one particular dish. My recurring craving is for the beef short ribs with vermicelli at Da Nang, a Vietnamese treasure in downtown Clawson.

At dinner with a group of friends, my enthusiasm persuaded most of them to order my favorite: Bun Thit Bo Nuong, grilled boneless beef short ribs with fresh vegetables and thin vermicelli (rice) noodles, topped with crushed peanuts ($12; $14 including a fried Imperial roll). The house special sauce comes on the side, so you can adjust the level of seasoning.

Available at lunch and dinner, the meal-in-a-bowl is notable for its generous helping of the delicious short ribs — you aren’t just given a few strips of meat at the top and then left with mostly noodles (or rice, if you wish).

You’ll be happy throughout the meal, but not overfilled. Other vermicelli choices feature grilled boneless chicken or pork, or sautéed shrimp, but why miss out on the short ribs, I always say.

Kim Dao-Waldis opened the French-influenced Vietnamese restaurant with her own recipes in March 2009. The “French” comes through in house-made desserts like crème brulee, assorted sorbets and a delectable, not-too-sweet coconut cream pie.

The restaurant’s specials change about every two weeks. Recent choices were eggplant tempura, spicy shrimp and fish balls soup, and mango-papaya salad with choice of shrimp, grilled chicken or beef.

Dao-Waldis was a child in 1978, the year her family left Da Nang, a port city on the south-central coast of Vietnam where a major American air base was located during the war.

Now, her homeland is recalled in the restaurant’s music and the lovely slide show projected on screens in two dining rooms. Large, black metal-framed mirrors also provide decoration on the burnt orange walls.

Da Nang is more upscale than most Vietnamese restaurants in Metro Detroit, and has the only liquor license among the local places, Dao-Waldis said. Most of the dishes are also gluten-free.

Freshness of ingredients is essential for her and Chef Melik, who she trained. Everything at Da Nang is made to order: “Our customers know to allow more time because the food takes a little longer to prepare,” Dao-Waldis said.

In addition to the vermicelli dishes, Dao-Waldis said soups comprise the most popular menu category. The eight varieties listed are meals in themselves and feature varieties made with beef, chicken and shrimp, and also Vietnamese-style chicken and beef curries.

In Vietnam, pho soup “is our national dish — served at breakfast, lunch and dinner,” she said. “It’s like hamburgers and hotdogs, only better. You can get it from restaurants and street vendors.”

Recently, I decided to check out Pho Tai Bo Vien ($12) — a large bowl of soup with thick rice noodles, thinly sliced pieces of round steak and homemade beef meatballs. To that, I added crunchy bean sprouts and a spritz of lime, bypassing the option of sliced hot peppers. With four sauces available to enhance the dish, I made the broth my own with a few dashes of the sweetish, house-made hoisen.

While waiting for my pho to arrive, I asked the solo diner seated behind me for the name of the steaming bowl of soup just brought to his table. Surprise — he had ordered the same dish as me. Smiling broadly, he remarked that pho with meatballs is the dish he always craves at Dan Nang.
I so understood.

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