Spend any time with Chef Rob Lam and it won’t be long before you’re howling with so much laughter that your insides hurt.
He has an outrageous sense of humor, along with a mischievous air about him that my late-mom would have surely described as “looking like he’s up to no good.”
On the contrary, what he’s up to is actually all good at Lily on Clement in San Francisco, where he’s turning out boldly flavored, contemporary Vietnamese dishes.
A couple weeks ago, my husband and I took my aunt to lunch here. While I picked up the tab, Lam added a few dishes on the house that he wanted us to try. Good thing my Chinese American auntie has a hearty appetite!
Lam, who also owns Perle Wine Bar in Oakland, opened Lily on Clement during the pandemic, and thankfully, managed to survive. In addition to dinner six nights a week, the restaurant also offers brunch or lunch, Friday through Sunday, which encompasses a la carte options, as well as a $32 two-course prix fixe that includes a specialty beverage, too.
With the exception of sushi, we’ve become so accustomed to cheap Asian food in heaping quantities, that we fairly balk when we come across an Asian restaurant daring to focus on premium ingredients, handled with precision, and plated with finesse and restraint.
Khai, which opened in December in San Francisco’s Design District, is a modern Vietnamese restaurant that serves only one menu — a 10-course tasting for $95. If your eyes are already rolling back in their sockets at the thought of just how much food you could get for that price at your neighborhood pho joint, you are missing the point. Because at $95, this dinner experience is a relative bargain as far as tasting menus go in the Bay Area.
For a dozen years, Chef Khai Duong oversaw Ana Mandara in San Francisco. After it closed, he traveled around Asia, reconnecting with his roots. He even won a gold medal in the International Beijing Culinary Competition, besting 200 other chefs.
At 58, he opened a very personal restaurant.
A candle illuminates each table.
He always knew he wanted to come back to San Francisco, though, to open something unique. At age 58, he did just that.