Hoa Hong 9 (Nine Roses)
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
The most ambitious Vietnamese restaurant in the area, Hoa Hong 9 (it means “Nine Roses”) not only cooks every Vietnamese dish you ever heard of, but also a full Chinese menu, too. That adds up to almost 300 dishes, including many found in no other local restaurants. A major renovation to the original West Bank location made it a more welcoming place, and a good place for the uninitiated to begin their discovery of this exciting cuisine. More recently, the second generation owners opened a smaller but equally exciting French Quarter location–the first Vietnamese restaurant in that district.
The vast menu at the Gretna location suggests that the restaurant specializes in nothing in particular, but somehow everything tastes like a specialty. Even complicated dishes are good. The “fondues,” for example. These are prepared at the table, with simmering broths and sauces through which you send various meats, seafoods, and vegetables. (They’re not the fondues you and I know, but that’s the closest word to the idea.) The kitchen is not afraid of buying and employing relatively expensive ingredients (quail and whole fresh fish, for example) in their cookery. Large parts of the kitchen’s repertoire are expressly aimed at ethnic Vietnamese; the servers may try to talk you out of some of the more exotic dishes. Get them anyway. It’s a big world here.
The French Quarter menu is much smaller than on the West Bank, but all the important dishes are here. Oceans of pho are the mainstay of that menu.
Nine Roses (that’s what the non-Vietnamese call it) opened its large, attractive dining room in 1990, long before New Orleanians went nuts over pho. Indeed, it was one of the very first Vietnamese restaurants in the New Orleans area. It was a hard sell at first, so for a time a section of Chinese dishes was available for those who couldn’t figure out the Viet cooking. But, pitching its offerings to the needs of Vietnamese customers, in its early decades Nine Roses opened early in the morning to serve its soups and noodles, and kept going all day to grab the West Bankers at night.
The Gretna restaurant is a large, spacious, and only slightly utilitarian dining room, with aquariums decorating the edges. Many of the tables are oversize, and quite often filled with whole Asian families. Indeed, the clientele is very heavily tilted to the Asian side, but this should not discourage non-Asians from attending. Service is more rapid than you expect. If you want to space out a series of courses, it would be a good idea to refrain from ordering the second course until you’ve finished the first one. They cook at the speed of light here. Some of the servers may seem a bit impatient with those new to the restaurant, but they mean nothing by it–it’s just the nature of the cuisine.
Vietnamese spring rolls
Hot and sour fish soup for two
Pho with brisket or meatballs
Bo tai chanh (beef salad with mint)
Grilled pork rolls
Black pepper crab
Seafood delight salad
Lemon grass chicken
Salt-baked shrimp, scallops, or crabs
Giant shrimp in Mama Tu’s sauce
Beef fondued in vinaigrette
Curry and coconut shrimp or chicken
Fish in clay pot
“Bun” dishes (grilled meats over cool noodles
FOR BEST RESULTS
Don’t go on Wednesday: they’re closed. If it’s your first visit, go to the website and print out the menu. Look it over and check off dishes that might be interesting to you. This will save a lot of impatience and delay in the restaurant.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
A “chef’s specialties” section of the menu would help those just getting into Vietnamese cooking to figure it out. But the regulars might object.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +1
- Consistency +1
- Value +3
- Attitude +1
- Wine & Bar
- Hipness +1
- Local Color
- Open all afternoon
- Quick, good meal
- Easy, nearby parking
Hoa Hong 9 (Nine Roses)