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You Want This: Vietnamese Steak and Eggs at Blacksmith

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There I was, on New Year's day, my plans for a fantastic brunch at Hugo's unexpectedly dashed at the last minute. Looking for a fast casual place for lunch, it looked like pretty much everything -- Eatsie Boys, Doshi House, Paulie's, Cafe TH -- was closed, until I came upon Blacksmith. Not only were they open, but they were serving food.

Surveying the chalkboard menu, I had planned on something light, like a sandwich, but was informed at the counter that the croissant sandwich I'd been contemplating was sold out. It was past noon, and I was quite hungry, and though it seemed to be more than I wanted, I took the plunge and ordered the Vietnamese Steak and Eggs.

I'm kind of a traditionalist where Asian food is concerned. I like things authentic. I like them real. I like my flavors strong. Though the Vietnamese Steak and Eggs at Blacksmith has been on the menu since the place opened, and though it was something I'd always wanted to try, I think that I'd subconsciously balked at ordering it because I knew that it wasn't real Vietnamese.

Erin Smith, the chef behind the menu at Blacksmith, had told me at the outset that David Buehrer, one of Blacksmith's owners and a huge proponent of Vietnamese cuisine, had wanted it on the menu, but that she wasn't going for authenticity. "I'm not Vietnamese; I'm not trying to be," she'd told me.

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Vietnamese steak and eggs is called "Bo Ne," and usually comes on a sizzling plate. The beef is a thin-cut steak served in a thick sauce -- black pepper sauce or mushroom sauce being the most common -- and the whole thing is served with eggs on top, a small bread loaf, and a side salad. See the video below for a traditional "Bo Ne" from Mon Ami Cafe in the Little Saigon area of Garden Grove, California.

Technically, Blacksmith's Vietnamese Steak and Eggs is more Vietnamese-inspired than Vietnamese. It comes to you aesthetically arranged on a wooden board, the steak and eggs served in a round cast iron skillet with some greens and a crusty loaf of bread. On presentation, I give it a definite "A."

But how was it on taste? Underneath the perfectly cooked eggs, the steak portion of the beef was actually small little cubes the size of small croutons -- more like Vietnamese "Bo Luc Lac," a traditional cubed beef stir fry, than a steak. The sauce, too, was a lot thinner than a traditional Bo Ne sauce, with a sweetness and consistency that reminded me more of Japanese sukiyaki than of Vietnamese flavors.

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The bread was thick and crusty, and I used it to dip into the sauce as I ate my small chunks of beef with egg. The greens were unseasoned, but were served with a small cup of what appeared to be mayonnaise. It would probably have been tastier with a Vietnamese-style vinaigrette, but the blandness of the leaves helped temper the sweet savoriness of the sauce, and it worked.

In the end, the fact that this wasn't an authentic dish from a Vietnamese restaurant didn't matter at all. It was tasty and enjoyable, and definitely a dish I'd order again the next time I'm craving something hearty, with Asian-inspired flavors, inside the loop.

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