Beverly Hills – Helene An is often recognized as the “mother of fusion cuisine” and this October, she will debut her passion project restaurant, Da Lat Rose with Crustacean Executive Chef Tony Nguyen.
Located above her famed Crustacean in Beverly Hills, Da Lat Rose is not just another restaurant — it is a gastronomic-biography of Helene’s dramatic life events. Beginning with her birth as the daughter of a Mandarin Scholar in 1944, the menu shares course-by-course how Vietnamese people were affected by World War II, the Rise of Communism and the Vietnam War, and ultimately end up as refugees in America. Continuing through the culinary journey, Chef An’s rags-to-riches story magnifies the plight of Vietnamese-Americans to adapt in their new land and serves as a prism through which the Vietnamese-American Diaspora can be better understood. In her 40-plus-year career, she was first to
introduce Vietnamese flavors to mainstream America, forever changing their palates with a cuisine that honors both cultures.
Da Lat Rose will be a high-end Vietnamese tasting restaurant with each dish on the 12-course tasting menu representing a different period of Helene’s life. In keeping with the Vietnamese tradition of iconography and oral storytelling, the menu is presented to each table as a conical hat designed to reflect her journey. It is etched in porcelain to honor the family’s traditions with icons paying respect to Vietnamese chinoiserie and ceramic art forms. The 40-seat restaurant will include an eight-seat chef counter and a private room for 18. There will be one seating on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7pm and two seatings at 6pm and 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
Through a tiny, non-descript entrance to the left of Crustacean, guests will proceed up the stairs to the bar area which pays homage to Vietnam’s traditional neighborhood beer hubs – Bia Hoi. The sleek interior is decorated with materials sourced from Vietnam and features tables inspired by Vietnamese street food vendors with hidden drawers designed to hold Da Lat Rose’s signature micro-brew beer, beer-based cocktails and four amuse-style courses. In keeping with the loud and buzzy traditions of Bia Hoi, guests will meet and interact with one another before departing ‘down the street’ to taste different foods.
While at Crustacean guests famously walk on water; at Da Lat Rose guests are transported over a custom-built ‘air bridge’ into the main dining room: The Dining Street. Custom-built rickshaw-inspired carts are attached to dining tables where the meal continues to be plated, prepared or presented tableside for each course in keeping with the traditional street-food traditions of Vietnam. While Helene’s story will begin in the Bia Hoi, guests will see the conical hat for the first time once they are seated in the dining room; their servers will continue to narrate her journey through the duration of the meal.
Born into an aristocratic family just outside of Hanoi, Helene’s path to becoming a celebrated chef and restaurateur began at a young age. As a young girl, Helene and her family were forced to evacuate Hanoi and lived as peasant farmers, until the French
ushered them back to royalty. When she was 11-years-of-age, her family was forced to evacuate again when the communists took over — this time leading them to seek refuge in Saigon before eventually settling in Da Lat for her adolescence. Here, Helene attended finishing school where she mastered French and home-entertaining etiquette; her weekends were spent living with Buddhist monks and learning their cuisine. In the mid-to-late 1950s, Helene married a wealthy man and the pair had three daughters — Hannah, Elizabeth, and Monique — who all lived richly in Saigon. The An family had three chefs — French, Vietnamese and Chinese — all of whom exposed Helene to their individual cuisines.
In 1971, Helene’s mother-in-law, Diana An, traveled to San Francisco on her own where she bought a deli on a whim with a one bedroom apartment above the deli. During the Fall of Saigon in 1975, the Ans fled the country and settled in San Francisco — all living together in that one-bedroom apartment. Within the first year of living there, Helene quickly learned English and received her CPA and was an accountant by day and ran the deli at night. The deli eventually became Thanh Long restaurant where Helene incorporated her own unique creations like roasted Dungeness crab and a few authentic Vietnamese dishes like cha giò, or Vietnamese egg rolls to the menu. Helene thought truly authentic Vietnamese flavors would be too foreign for the American palate so she incorporated some of the French and Chinese dishes she was exposed to from her family’s chefs. She saw how
many people loved pasta dishes and while she did not know how to make cacio e pepe, she knew how to make noodles. She also knew from her Eastern Medicine training in Da Lat that garlic has medicinal properties which make it easy to digest and led to the birth of her signature crowd-pleasing garlic noodles. To protect her top-secret recipes, they built another kitchen behind the one in the deli which became known as the “secret kitchen.” Thanh Long’s menu consisted of mostly Vietnamese dishes and attracted a cult following.
While the restaurant was successful, Helene and her daughters never thought it would ever become a trendy restaurant with a global impact. Her daughter Elizabeth who worked in the fashion industry became more interested in the business of the restaurant and is now the House of An CEO. The family opened Crustacean San Francisco in 1991 followed by Crustacean Beverly Hills in 1997 where Helene’s crowd-pleasing roasted crab and garlic noodles became signature dishes and gained even more popularity than at Thanh Long.
Four generations of An women have kept the family business running for over 40 years with Helene at the helm. With a desire to further Vietnamese traditions and heritage, as well as the Asian Diaspora as a whole as her legacy, Chef An will continue to oversee the culinary direction of the An Family projects and shift her focus to mentoring talented chefs who share her mission.
Alongside her granddaughter, Bosilika (Director of Development and Strategic Partnerships), the family plans to create a fund to invest in chefs who celebrate ethnicity in America. After leading the day-to-day for the first year of Da Lat Rose, Helene will hand
over the kitchen and space to Chef Tony to create his own version of Da Lat Rose as the family’s first incubated House of An project led by a new chef.
To celebrate her culinary contributions, Helene was recently presented with the Pioneer Award in Culinary Arts by the Smithsonian Institute in their first-ever Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center celebration.