Sometimes, telling a story through words is not enough. With the massive success of her House of An restaurant empire—Crustacean in Beverly Hills and San Francisco, AnQi in Orange County and more—celebrated chef Helene An, or as she’s affectionately known, “Mama,” has lived an extraordinary life based on her 40-plus-year career alone. But Dà Lat Rose, Helene’s newest venture with Crustacean executive chef Tony Nguyen, goes beyond that to paint an even more vibrant picture of her rags-to-riches story through its 12-course dining experience.
The Union is made with king crab bành khot, coconut bechamel and royal kaluga caviar.
“Dà Lat Rose is my story, one that I hope will inspire other chefs around the world,” says Helene of the restaurant, whose name pays homage to the Vietnamese city where she and her family lived during her adolescence. “Cuisine is the most important part of a culture. It helps you remember your heritage and it helps you connect to other cultures around the world. My grandchildren love hearing about my childhood and my journey to America, and it made me realize that by telling my story, I could help others feel like they have traveled around the world too.”
Raft to Refuge is a spot prawn satay with lemongrass garlic butter and chili salt.
Accessed via a discreet entrance and stairwell to the left of Crustacean, Dà Lat Rose consists of a bar area and a more formal dining room. The first thing that strikes you as you enter the space is the incredible design. “We wanted the design to be true to Vietnam, yet modernized so it feels local to our Beverly Hills neighborhood,” says Helene’s daughter, House of An CEO Elizabeth An. “We customized every aspect of Dà Lat Rose, from the custom carts that roll to each table to allow for tableside cooking to the 200-pound birdcage that hangs from the ceiling.”
Diners kick off the experience in the bar area, which features tables inspired by Vietnamese street food vendors, with hidden drawers designed to hold the restaurants’s signature microbrewed beers, beer-based cocktails and more. Four amuse-style courses are served, including A Tumultuous Time, razor clams grilled over white coals, and Raft to Refuge, a perfectly executed and flavorful spot prawn meant to be dipped in an edible lemongrass garlic butter candle.
The elegant dining room
Upon finishing up at the bar, guests cross over an air bridge into the gorgeous main dining room. Similar to the furniture, all tabletop items were custom made for the restaurant, including the beautiful handmade chopsticks—guests are given a choice of which pair they’d like to use during the meal. From there, a multitude of courses—and optional wine or cocktail pairings—are served as waiters explain the significance of each dish.
Mastery & Monastery, or goi Dà Lat, a salad made with banana blossom, kohlrabi, red water radish, crispy rau muong, white fungus and avocado, is delightfully fresh and crunchy. The Union, or king crab bánh khot, is visually stunning and incredibly tasty. Served in the hat of a large carved figurine, the crab, made with coconut bechamel and topped with royal kaluga caviar, is a perfect bite and one of Elizabeth’s favorite dishes. “As a child, this was my favorite dish and was only made on special occasions,” she explains. “I would always beg my mother to make it for me, but she told me I had to appreciate how special it was.” An American Dream, a version of Helene’s famous garlic noodles topped with Santa Barbara sea urchin and 24K gold is a standout, as are the desserts, especially the coconut tapioca.
Nguyen—or chef Tony, as he’s known at the restaurant—is playing a major role, as after a year, Helene plans to place Dà Lat Rose in his capable hands. “To me, Mama’s legacy lives on every day through me,” he says. “I hope to uphold her legacy into the future by just cooking strong and creating dishes with her in mind.”
Photography by: photos courtesy of Dà Lat Rose