The Adventurous Eats dinner is back April 29 at West Philly’s Vientiane Café, with eight courses of uncommon Laotian dishes not usually seen around here — and it’s not for the squeamish.
Vientiane got its start as what neighbors called “the blue tent,” an unlicensed eatery set up under a tent in a West Philly backyard. The unlicensed part eventually caused problems after the makeshift restaurant proved too popular to keep under wraps, and chef Daovy Phanthavong and her family relocated it to the current storefront at 4728 Baltimore Avenue in 2002. Now usually, Vientiane serves a satisfying Laotian-Thai menu of spring rolls, curries, noodles, and the like, along with a list of Laotian specialties like pork and lemongrass sausages with chili garlic sauce. But the Adventurous Eats dinner is an entirely different beast.
Before last year’s Adventurous Eats, Sunny Phanthavong, the restaurant’s general manager and daughter of Daovy Phanthavong, told Eater: “It’s ‘adventurous’ because we prepare food from our native land of Laos without any restrictions to the Western palate.” What that translates to is a multi-course menu of dishes rarely spotted in Philly, like steamed fertilized duck eggs, grilled chicken hearts, bamboo stew with pumpkin and ant larvae, or an omelet overflowing with silkworms.
The exact lineup of dishes is kept secret until the dinner, so diners can be surprised (and maybe not overthink what they’re about to eat). The family-style meal starts at 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 29. Vientiane is usually closed Sundays, so this will be the only offering for the day. It’s $40 person, not including tip. If you want in, you have to make a reservation and pay in advance.
The Vientiane crew has more in the works than Adventurous Eats. A second location is opening in East Kensington, at 2537 Kensington Avenue next to Cafe Pho Ga Thanh Thanh and across from Thang Long, two pho destinations.
The new restaurant will be called Vientiane Bistro and serve a slightly different menu than the original — more details on that to come, but look for traditional Lao food and plenty of vegan and gluten-free options, Sunny Phanthavong says. It’s going for a June opening.