Alcohol is not a common find in Vietnamese restaurants, so Le Truong thinks she can safely say she owns the only restaurant around serving “bubble tea cocktails.”
Truong owns the Jasmine Deli on Eat Street, and she decided to open the nearby Jasmine 26 Restaurant & Bar in part so she could serve alcohol. The cocktail combines the bubble tea recipe the deli uses across the street with flavored rum for selections that include honeydew, green tea, mango, coconut, strawberry and mocha. The creamy, smoothie-style drinks are anchored by the trademark tapioca pearls piled at the bottom of the glass — Truong said everyone likes to chew them for an after-drink treat. A wide straw enables drinkers to fish out the tapioca.
The most in-demand entrée at the restaurant is the Jasmine Crepe — it’s a Vietnamese crepe made of turmeric rice coconut batter and filled with stir-fried pork and shrimp, bean sprouts, onion and yellow mung bean. Other popular choices are more traditional stand-bys, such as basil rolls and noodle soup, along with the Tamarind Hot Pot, spicy eggplant, and sweet potato shrimp toast.
Bubble tea is not an ancient oriental drink. It was developed in Taiwan and became popular in the mid-1990s throughout Asia. Asian culture does not emphasize dairy products, Truong explained, and bubble tea is also non-dairy. Fruit is blended with tea to achieve the creamy taste.
The backdrop to the bar where bubble tea cocktails come to life is a massive Vietnamese wood carving of the “Happy Buddha,” a figure that likes to drink and is known to bring good luck. To the right of the bar, a flat-screen television is usually playing Vietnamese and Chinese soap operas. The Saigon Broadcasting Television Network is the restaurant’s channel of choice, but the bartender is happy to flip to a football game on request.
Truong said she wanted her restaurant to have a simple, contemporary feel. She installed a wood screen reminiscent of wood trellises found in outdoor Vietnamese gardens, and she chose furniture with clean lines. The dark wooden tables are topped with red candles, and dimly glowing lamps are hung high overhead. The wooden door at the entry was carved in Vietnam with rows of eight coins, because eight is a lucky number in Vietnam.
Truong grew up in Kien Giang, Vietnam, and she opened the Jasmine Deli with her cousin in 2000. She has spent the past three years planning her new restaurant, and it could someday become the Jasmine Deli’s new home as well if a proposal to build a hotel at the 2500 block of Nicollet comes to fruition. (The developer is currently working to secure financing for the project.) Jasmine Deli is the only retailer left on that Nicollet Avenue strip, Truong said. She hopes that if the deli relocates, her customers would adjust well to the new digs at Jasmine 26.
Go see it
The first of three installments of the “Cuttlefish” series sponsored by Adamantine Arts runs Feb. 23–March 1 at Stevens Square Center for the Arts, 1905 3rd Ave. S. 879-0200. www.stevensarts.org/.