The Lais’ new milestone

They brought their Vietnamese fare to Philly 30 years ago. A glowing cafe is their latest venture.

By Rick Nichols, Inquirer Food Columnist

Benny Lai’s journey has led him here, to the sparkling new Vietnam Cafe at 47th and Baltimore, around the corner from where the Lai family, fleeing Saigon, staked its first claim in West Philadelphia – a modest Asian grocery called Fu Wah – 30 years ago as of October.

Sparkling doesn’t quite capture the cafe (nor does cafe), though a fairyland of lanterns glows above its 100 seats like a haze of hot-air ballons, and the hardwood floor is as unscuffed as a shoe just out of the box.

What it is is “evocative,” with understated touches of old Vietnam (a Rivera-esque print of women hulling rice, a carved duck standing by to snap up spillage); and “impressive,” a testament to an immigrant family’s passage: The family Lai – 10 strong, tempered by escape across the South China Sea, stuffed in bunk beds in a two-bedroom apartment on 45th Street – did not land lightly in the city.

Fu Wah, still family-run and still making the toasted Vietnamese tofu hoagie that remains a staple of West Philly vegans, begat (in 1984) a 28-seat Chinatown eatery called Vietnam Restaurant at 11th and Vine, which begat the intimate Bar Saigon, the third-floor nook grafted on as the restaurant grew and tripled in size. More.

Kids Night Out

Parents are invited to drop off your children on Saturday, January 16  from 7-9 p.m. to eat pizza, paint pottery and have a great supervised time while you go out and enjoy each other for dinner! $25 per child. Must be at least 5 years old. The Expressive Hand is located at 622 South 9th Street. Reservations are required for this event (267) 519-2626.

Let’s Toast to the New Year!

The year 2010 is right around the corner and a few of the restaurants we work with are celebrating this New Year’s Eve! Take a look at what’s being offered, the great food our chefs are creating and where to have fun with your friends and family!

Funky Lil’ Kitchen

Chef Michael Falcone of Pottstown’s gem of a restaurant Funky Lil’ Kitchen has put together a decadent five course menu for $55 (not including tax and gratuity). There are four seating times at 6 p.m., 6:30 p.m., 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. Reservations are required as well as a non-refundable deposit of $25 per person to hold.

Some highlights from the menu include: Red Pepper and Boursin Spread, Crab Fondue and Croutes, Duck Confit Gnocchi, Pan Seared Sea Scallops, Grilled Veal Paillard, Chocolate Cake, and Orange-Jasmine Pot De Crème. Funky Lil’ Kitchen is located at 232 King Street, Pottstown, Pa. For reservations please call 610.326.7400 or visit

Bistrot La Minette

Queen Village’s Bistrot La Minette is ringing in the New Year with seating throughout the evening until 11:30 p.m. Diners can enjoy the regular menu with specials created by Chef Peter Woolsey and a complimentary champagne toast at midnight.

A few of the specials for the night include: Pâtes Fraiches aux Truffes Noir (house-made pasta, crème fraiche, shaved black truffles), Tournedos de Boeuf au Foie Gras (beef tenderloin, seared foie gras, thyme jus, port reduction, roasted Brussels sprouts, potato croquettes, chanterelle mushrooms), Homard et sa Sauce de Caviar (butter-poached lobster, fennel-caviar sauce, lobster reduction, parsnip-potato puree, pan-roasted heirloom baby carrots, spinach).

Bistrot La Minette is located at 623 S. 6th Street (between South and Bainbridge Streets). For reservations call 215.925.8000, or visit


Chef David Katz welcomes guests to celebrate New Year’s Eve with a special five-course prix fixe menu for $55, as well as special $5 glasses of sparkling wine all night.

The menu will feature quality ingredients such as Griggstown quails, braised short ribs and a selection of cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery. Diners can also enjoy a chilled seafood platter for an additional $15, which will include east and west coast oysters, clams and Florida stone crabs.

Mémé is located at 2201 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA. For reservations please call 215.735.4900

D’Angelos Ristorante & Lounge

Ring in the New Year right and enjoy the regular menu with specials by Chef Tony. Seating is available by reservation through the evening until 10 p.m. Also, enjoy party favors and dancing with DJ Inga all night long in the lounge for $15 per person (no fee for diners).

D’Angelos Ristorante & Lounge is located at 256 South 20th Street, Philadelphia, PA. For reservations please call 215.546.3935 or visit