Cuisine imported from other countries is usually, out of necessity, adapted to the local palate. The original ingredients might not be readily available, or the heat and spice might be more than the average American taste buds can handle. But Vientiane Cafe is throwing caution to the wind with an Adventurous Eats dinner inspired by the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.
On the show, Zimmern is on a quest to find — and sample — the world’s most exotic foods. For Adventurous Eats, which Vientiane has hosted a few time before, the Laotian-Thai restaurant sets its regular menu aside in favor of eight uncommon courses.
“It’s ‘adventurous’ because we prepare food from our native land of Laos without any restrictions to the Western palate,” says Sunny Phanthavong, the general manager of the West Philadelphia eatery and daughter of the owner, Daovy Phanthavong. The restaurant got its start in the family’s West Philly backyard, where Daovy would cook up $3 plates heaped with food for those in the know, served under a blue tarp — until the makeshift restaurant got too popular and its unlicensed status became an issue. Vientiane Cafe opened at 4728 Baltimore Avenue in 2002.
Tofu Laab! Slightly fried tofu then toss together with lemongrass, chili, rice powder, cilantro, mint and lime juice. Serve with sticky rice and veggies on the side. #Innovation #oneandonly #laofood #tradition #vegan #vegetarian #glutenfree #laos #philly #byob #westphilly #bestofphilly #phillyfoodie #brotherylove #smallbusiness #momandpop #foodie #philadelphia
The Adventurous Eats dinner is a newer, occasional addition; the last one was in November 2016. The next installment, which is priced at $35 per person, is this Sunday, April 23, at 5 p.m. But Phanthavong doesn’t want to disclose the full menu too early: “The idea is to have everyone excited and be surprised when the date gets closer, almost like a mystery dinner concept,” she says. She does let on that two of the courses from the last Adventurous Eats will make a repeat appearance, including an omelet with silkworms and a fertilized chicken egg with a spicy ginger sauce.
Other items on last year’s menu included stir-fried frog legs and a bamboo stew with pumpkin and ant larvae.
Vientiane has several options for vegetarians and vegans, but Adventurous Eats is decidedly not for them. The meal will be served family-style and reservations are required. The restaurant is BYOB, so you’ll want to select a wine that goes with gizzard. In the meantime, take a look at the last menu for an idea of what you’ll be getting yourself into: