By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
ST. PAUL (February 22, 2011) – After six years of hard work making their first restaurant a success, the owners of Que Nha Vietnamese restaurant have now opened Indochin at 1702 Grand Avenuel, St. Paul, MN 55105.
While ‘Que Nha’ means ‘My Homeland’ in Vietnamese, the name ‘Indochin’ comes from Indochina, the French name for Vietnam during the colonial period.
“We chose the name to show the French influence on the Vietnamese, and that means that the food will be more of the French influence,” said Ha Tu, owner.
The Indochin menu will be nearly identical to Que Nha, said Thu, but over time she expects to expand on the French influence in Vietnamese food, while Que Nha will continue to offer its rare traditional Vietnamese cuisine.
Look for some special onion soups and beef items in the future at Indochin.
“I have always wanted that but we didn’t have the staff to do it before,” she said, noting they now have two chefs with French-Vietnamese cooking experience.
The signature items of Que Nha will also be available at Indochin, such as the varieties of banh mi sandwiches and pho soups, hot pot, congee, vermicelli rice and egg noodle platters.
Ha Tu said that they have gained a reputation for authentic Vietnamese, meaning they haven’t ‘Americanized’ their food to attract the mainstream, and said the area is now well acquainted with ethnic foods and have a desire to try new things.
She said simply that Indochin is a way to introduce her food to a new neighborhood and serve a new community. The location in the former Huong Sen restaurant is a coveted spot just west of Macalester College.
“We were thing about expanding,” she said, who wasn’t all that familiar with the neighborhood but since it was a successful business with a nice space and nice surroundings, that proved to be the combination she was looking for in a new restaurant.
“I was a student myself and I like to be next to Macalester,” she said. “The food is reasonable and we will reach out to the students.”
The restaurant went through a 100 percent makeover, where Ha said it was important to create an environment where people feel warm, cozy and invited. She put in a mirrored wall behind a row of bamboo plants, refurbished the kitchen and put in a new row of booths and a tile floor to replace the carpet.
“I like the tile,’ she added. “It’s a new look.”
Ha will run Indochin with three fulltime staff, including two new chefs and servers. She said the new place is an exciting next step to bring something different to another neighborhood.
“Its nice to have a variety of foods in the area for the neighborhood to enjoy,” she said.
Two restaurants sharing kitchen space and staff can double the output and cut down on time. That really helps with time and labor intensive prep, such as the pho, a family recipe passed down for generations that they describe as a combination of seasoning, ingredients and preparation. The marinating of beef stock for the broth will take about 24 hours and at least half that time for the chicken broth.
“It’s not like she has her restaurant and I have mine,” said Ha. “We have one place, with two kitchens and share the prep.”
Que Nha will continue to offer its bubble tea and jack fruit drinks, but Indochin has decided to forgo the items as they are next door to The Tea Garden, a chain of Vietnamese owned tea shops. Instead, Indochin will have a liquor license this month to offer beer and wine with their French meals.
Ha said there are no secrets to good business. It is good food and good service that has brought their customers back again and again. She said they keep good servers and cooks by having a cleaning service come in when they are closed. She said the restaurant is cleaner that way because people who have been working all day won’t do as good a job cleaning when they are so tired.
Ha said that its all worth while when they hear positive feedback form the customers.
The award winning restaurant is known for serving food from the north, central and south of Vietnam. Each region is distinct for its natural food resources, cooking and seasoning styles.
The hu tieu rice noodle soups are a southern item; while the bun bo spicy soup reportedly began in central Vietnam. The vermicelli and pho items are considered northern items.
There is also a vegetarian menu.
“We want to be different and unique,” said Ha. “We want to serve the community.”
Ha Tu and Thu Nguyen, two sisters, opened Que Nha in 2006, and it has since developed a great reputation in the Brownstone Building at 849 University Avenue (at Victoria), in St. Paul.
Thu Nguyen is originally from Saigon, where she ran a store and earned an international cooking certification from an Australian cooking school. She immigrated to Southern California where she opened her first restaurant, and moved to Minnesota to live near family after the loss of her spouse.
Thu said she very happy and proud of the support from the community.
“We are still learning and try to improve ourselves and find new and unique dishes to help us serve the need of the customers,” said Thu.
Ha Tu was raised in Vietnam and completed school in Rochester, Minnesota, where her elder brother was first sponsored. She also lived for a while in California, before reuniting again with the family in Minnesota.
Both restaurants are closed on Wednesdays, and you will usually find Ha at the gym or reading up on cooking.
“I am confident in the way that I am cooking,” she said. “I cook with heart and we still try to excel and not stay the way we are.
“I am still learning,” she added. “At night I read cook books until 3:00 in the morning to find ways to cook better.”