Cục Gạch Quán
If, when you were young, you ever had a dollhouse, and regretted being too big to live in it, I have found the perfect restaurant for you.
A few weeks ago, a friend invited me out to a restaurant recommended by one of his local friends. When he told me the name of the restaurant, Cục Gạch Quán, I thought it sounded familiar. Turns out, we were in good company. One of everyone’s favorite Saigon bloggers, A Girl in Asia, as well as Travel & Leisure, had just written a review on it.
Since then, I’ve visited two more times – pleasing our out of town guests on both occasions. The restaurant is charming and cozy, and the food is fresh Vietnamese. Every dish is a hit.
There are many neighborhoods in this city that, as you walk through them, are nothing more than wall-lined streets; the wall of one housing connecting to the next so you can only guess what is behind. Cục Gạch Quán is built in a house in such a neighborhood. The gate that stands ajar is the only sign of life.
Passing through the gate takes you from a narrow, dirty street to a warm, inviting home. All three times we’ve eaten there we’ve eaten upstairs. The house is built around a tiny, open courtyard that is nothing but a fishpond, a walkway across, and a steep ladder/stairs going to a landing between the attics. On the right it is more like a room with regular chairs, tables, and a flat ceiling. The left side has me charmed. After stooping through the low door, there is a four-poster bed, draped with gauzy curtains, with pillows but no mattress, and low chairs nestled around tables under the clay roof tiles. An old armoire holds the extra chopsticks and bowls.
It’s delightful, and I haven’t even gotten to the best part. The menu has sturdy wooden covers and an overwhelming number of choices. Many of the vegetables don’t even have English names. I’ve had lotus salad, pumpkin flower, bamboo, and tofu that even I enjoyed. The stir-fried okra is amazing, and rice is served in a blue and white ceramic urn. Sparkling water is served with water spinach stems for straws in glasses that tilt a little to the side.
And, the dish that keeps making me lose my manners – the caramelized pork in a clay pot. I hog the entire portion, sometimes stabbing others away with my chopsticks. I’d be lying if I said I’d never swiped at the sauce with my finger, and lying even more if I said I didn’t want to pick it up and lick it clean. We ordered two this time – one for me, and one for everyone else.
Before it could be photographed, we were into the second clay pot, and there were only remains of squid, tofu, beef and lotus salad, chicken and ginger, and okra.