CULINARY VENTURE GOES EAST
> VIETNAMESE DISHES FIND NEW HOME IN COLLIERVILLE
TUYEN LE IS HAVING A personal and culinary renaissance in Collierville.
The restaurant she opened in June, where she is very much at home and very much in charge, is New Que Huong; in English, “New Homeland.” It’s about 25 miles east of the characterful Midtown site of Saigon Le, where she started in the Memphis food business. Her new place is in an unremarkable shopping center on Poplar. But the food she’s generating from this kitchen is often remarkable.
The resident chef did not know I worked at The Commercial Appeal, but she did recognize me as a longtime devotee of the restaurant her mother founded in 1993 on Cleveland, and where she worked as the most cheerful of the servers. “Lemongrass chicken!” she said when she saw me in the airy, open dining room at New Que Huong.
Tuyen Le has her own rendition of this entree at New Que Huong, but we wanted a fresh start, too.
On our first visit, we asked the kitchen to choose two appetizers, and we received a plate of lovely, plump fried wonton, stuffed with pork and shrimp and glazed with a light fish sauce. We also were served beef skewers and chicken skewers, the tender grilled meat on sticks dipped in sesame seeds and garnished with pickled ginger and carrots.
Tuyen Le is unwaveringly faithful to her Vietnamese roots. She does not promote the fried egg roll or fried rice: “They’re Chinese,” she said firmly. So we steered to the “Special Vietnamese Dishes” section of the menu and ordered the “black pepper” version of the deep-fried catfish. It becomes a rich, hearty stew with mushrooms, ginger and whole
garlic cloves, mixed together and served with rice, delivered in a clay pot. I love black pepper, so I couldn’t have been happier when chewing the plump mounds of white fish to crunch down on a grainy burst of spice from the whole peppercorns that dotted the dish. Another gratifying meal in a bowl here is the combination rice clay pot, with stir-fried shrimp, chicken, pork, beef and vegetables.
We also tried the green shell mussels. There are oyster and black bean sauces with the dish, but we chose French butter, a delicate mixture of salt, sugar and lemon, which really lets you savor the generous plate of mussels. On a second visit, we decided to order a couple of the dishes that starred in color pictures at the front of the menu.
And here, diner, we need to pause and praise the Lotus Root Salad. Here are the ingredients: shrimp, pork, carrots, cucumbers, lotus root — it’s white and crunchy, cut into slivers — all sprinkled with sesame seeds and served with a sauce of vinegar and sugar. You put it on crisp crackers made of potato starch. I won’t bore you with adjectives like “exquisite” and “delicious.” Just order it.
The Shrimp Sugar Cane is like a sausage lollipop. It’s ground shrimp and pork on a cane stick you can chew. Order that, too.
The prolific use of fresh vegetables in and around the dishes at New Que Huong is one of its many pleasing qualities. Carrots, cucumbers, onions, tomato and lettuce, along with peppers, mint and basil, are delivered with abandon, as stuffings, toppings, garnishes.
Tuyen’s 18-year-old daughter, Huyen Le, helps to provide confident and friendly service, delivering eating instructions with the dishes.
The Lotus Root Salad at New Que Huong is a collection of crisp goodness and a must-try.
Restaurateur Tuyen Le and her daughter, Huyen Le, at New Que Huong in Collierville.
The fried catfish with black pepper at New Que Huong.