Buon Appetito!

The Crescent area gets a new dining option…

LA CUCINA (Block 07-08 CR1-07, 103 Ton Dat Tien, D7) is a new addition to the al fresco dining strip at the Crescent in District 7. Owned by the same operators as the El Gaucho steakhouse concept, it adds another welcome dining niche to both D7 and the broader Ho Chi Minh City dining offer – Italian with a seafood focus.

Oi visited on a Tuesday night, not the busiest day of the week for any of the restaurants in this area – but as the only diners we certainly got exceptional attention and the opportunity for an enjoyable chat with the chef. Chef Reuben is a New Yorker who worked at Bobby Chinn’s in District 1 before helping found La Cucina.

La Cucina is a modern, airy restaurant with floor to ceiling glass to make the most of the view over the lake and to watch the locals exercising their pets or strolling in the twilight. Despite the negative press this location has been unfairly subject to in other publications, The Crescent is one of our favorite destinations in Ho Chi Minh City to escape the chaos of the city. So airy and open, you can literally feel like you’re in Singapore or Southern California and as the sun sets on a hot summer’s day, there’s usually a light breeze coming off the lake to make it comfortable to sit outdoors.

This night we chose inside where we could have the best of both worlds – the view over the lake on one side and the appetite-nurturing sight of takeaway pizzas being prepared in the moon shaped brick wood fired ovens in the center of the dining room.

La Cucina was still new when we called by, with some fine-tuning being completed. In that spirit, perhaps we could suggest a review of the complimentary bread – it was too dry and salty and even dipping it in olive oil failed to make it appetizing.

After seeking the counsel of the waiter, we chose two starters – a light arugula salad (VND135,000) with sundried tomato and parmesan and the carpaccio di polpo (VND155,000) – raw octopus sliced thinly and served with roasted garlic and olive oil.

The salad was moorish with a fine balance between sweet dressing, salty parmesan flakes and peppery rocket. The carpaccio was a revelation. The octopus was creamy, very tender and surprisingly full of flavor. It was served with freshly cut lemon which made it even tastier.

My dining companion is a fan of both pasta and seafood so this was the perfect venue for her.

The imagination was quickly captured by calamaro inchiostro fettuccine (VND195,000) – squid ink fettuccine with seafood. I ordered the merluzzo al forno (VND450,000) – oven roasted snow fish with capers and rock salt. Coloring fettuccini with squid ink is a brave mission, and certainly unique. Black pasta is not that common, especially in a main stream form such as this. I am reliably informed it passed in termsof quality, if a tiny bit firmer than is her usual preference. It was served over plump shell fish, calamari and other saltwater-raised fish tossed in a tomato broth.

My snowfish was a winner. Reuben made a point of coming out to apologize to us that the capers had not been delivered on time and asked if we minded him selecting an olive substitute which he felt would do the fish justice. This is Vietnam; such things happen on an almost daily basis in the dining industry so we did not mind a bit, and the chef was true to his word – the olives were divine.

La Cucina-Image by Quinn Ryan Mattingly-4

So, too, the fish which was tasty and soft, served on a creamy sauce with oven roasted potatoes and a generous serving of colorful, tender vegetables.

The wine list is equally broad.

It’s a warm, inviting venue with an international brasserie style outlook and friendly, engaging staff. It deserves to do well.

Images by QUINN RYAN MATTINGLY

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