Esquire November 1997
THE BEST NEW RESTAURANTS OF 1997
BY JOHN MARIANI
THE AMAZING ANS FROM SAIGON
LET ME TELL YOU THIS STORY, THEN you tell me the American Dream isn’t alive and kicking. Helene and Danny An and their three beautiful daughters—Hannah, Elizabeth, and Monique—once lived a life of ease in Saigon. Comes the war, the city falls to the Vietcong, and, with nothing but the clothes on their backs, the Ans flee to America. There they scrape together enough to open a seafood store in San Francisco. They work hard, they prosper, and one day, finally, they open one of the most dazzling new restaurants in California.
Like everyone who first enters Crustacean, you’ll stop short, trying not to slip into the fish-filled stream that meanders across the restaurant floor. Only then do you notice you can walk on the glass-topped water. Everything here echoes Saigon circa 1960—an Indochina now found only in art-house movies or French-colonial novels. There’s an encircling veranda, an imposing teakwood wine rack, and a bar where beautiful people sip Asian cocktails and Veuve Clicquot.
The An daughters, impeccable in Chanel, welcome you warmly while their mother Helene, prepares her specialties, in a “secret kitchen” within the main kitchen, in accordance with traditional ideas about the healthfulness of certain combinations of food. Whatever. Just bring on the ginger lobster with thin noodles in ginger-basil sauce and the Indochinese ravioli with prawns, caramelized shallots, and fennel. And beware—the whole roasted Dungeness crab and garlic noodles could make you cry. Seek solace in a bottle of crisp, flinty Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc from New Zealand.
Crustacean is both a happy ending and an astounding new beginning.