“Vietnamese food becomes Viet-Cajun. Viet-Cajun goes back to Vietnam as Viejun.”
Kau Ba opened in Montrose in late July 2018. The chef, Nikki Tran, was featured on Ugly Delicious for having taken back Viet-Cajun food to her native Saigon. Viet-Cajun is a fusion that owes its existence to Vietnamese refugees who came to coastal Louisiana and Texas during and after the war. With them, they brought spices, soups, vermicelli and a tradition of shrimping, blending well with the Gulf shellfish culture and giving birth to a new type of cuisine – Viet-Cajun. But, what Tran brings back to Houston at Kau Ba is something a bit transformed from the original Viet-Cajun she left with.
The restaurant looks like it could be in Brooklyn (though I’m not delving into the Brooklynization of the world in this article). Staffing was light and slow on the evening we went, but it picked up once more clientele arrived. There’s a nice drink menu, with suggested wine pairings and traditional cocktails with a SE Asian twist. Tran’s menu, though, is the star, and a fun take on the intermingling of Vietnamese and Cajun food, with dishes such as Viejun Pho, Vumbo and even French Invasion.
For the food we tried, I could have done without the pork and shrimp dumplings, as it was mostly dumpling and very minimal pork and shrimp. The duck confit salad (picture below) was interesting, but I could have also passed on it for something else.
My favorite part of the meal, though, was the bún riêu cua, a Vietnamese pork and crab noodle soup (picture above), with vermicelli, tomatoes, fried tofu, egg, crab and a pork meatball all swimming in the most flavorful broth. Riêu means sea foam in Vietnamese because the crab/egg mixture resembles sea foam as it floats on top of the soup. The rest of the restaurant turned and stared when the bowl came out because it smelled that good.
And to top it off, Chef Nikki Tran herself came out and took a picture of me eating the bún rieu (picture below), because, as she said, “It’s a very traditional dish, and people don’t usually get it.” At least, white people like me don’t…
I have a lot more to try here, so try something I didn’t have and let me know what you thought!
Tips? Take your time and try a lot.
What to get? bún riêu cua