The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Go Eat - By Peggy Burch

/ burch@com­mer­cialap­

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.

Pho­tos by Nikki Bo­ert­man/The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

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.

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