Mot Hai Ba
The kitchen’s creative takes on north Vietnamese cuisine have earned this tiny East Dallas restaurant a cult following. Low-slung stools and communal tables make for a casual, super-cozy dining room (at first we were surprised by our proximity to other diners; once the food came, we barely noticed them). Dishes like the Shaking Beef dazzle with complex flavors (tender chunks of steak seared in a hot skillet with a concentrated soy vinaigrette, pickled red onions, and tomatoes), while others, like the outstanding crispy fried whole fish with herbs, are sublime in their simplicity. A refreshing blue crab salad came studded with sliced cucumber and bok choy; a nuoc mam dressing, tart lime supremes, and red Thai chiles lent a spicy-tangy spark to the sweet crab. A starter described as “crispy rice cakes” was surprisingly more like a giant stuffed pancake; although the batter held shiitake mushroom, scallions, and shrimp, the dish was somewhat bland, even when wrapped in lettuce with the accompanying fresh herbs and nuoc mam. We loved the seared diver scallops on a bed of umami-rich roasted eggplant marmalade. Dessert took an inspired East-meets-West turn: a silky lemongrass-infused panna cotta made with coconut cream and topped with raspberry sorbet.