Eating Vietnamese food is messy work. After a good feasting, the table is littered with plates, bowls with tiny lagoons of dipping sauce, sheets of lettuce, tufts of herbs, shards of crumbs, glasses, and napkins galore. Your shirt is likely covered in specks of sauce flung from a noodle as it wiggled its way toward your mouth. This is elbows on the table, slurping, beer drinking cuisine. And no one in town does it better than Nine Roses.
Everything at Nine Roses is first rate. Two words of caution though: (1) It is closed on Wednesdays, and (2) it does not have banh mi. If it is your first experience with Vietnamese order the bun. We would force you to get it with chargrilled pork and egg rolls, but you already knew that. The pork's dark, sweet and crusty outside hides an interior of juiciness and salt. If the perfect bite of food existed, we feel it would be comprised of noodles, nuoc mam, chargrilled pork, the crust of an eggroll, and a slice of cucumber.
The quail is another stand out dish. Four or five quail arrived, their skins bronzed like Pauly D from fragrant, exotic rubbed in spices and dry roasting. Next to them sit elastic pillows of smooth, steamed dough. You pry open the dough, stuff it with quail meat and crisp accoutrements, fold it over and bite. Soft dough, rich quail, fresh herbs; it's enough to make a Glee worthy chorus sing out in your mouth.
You would also do well to focus on the dishes which we call "roll it yourself." Tennis ball sized pork meatballs get wrapped inside sheets of romaine and dunked in fish sauce flecked with chili flake (above). It is as close to healthy as pork is ever gonna be. Or try ground shrimp wrapped around a shaft of sugar cane and then grilled to impart a smoky and sweet edge (below). To assemble, first dip rice paper in hot water to moisten. Toss on some mint, a few bean sprouts, and roll. (Come on, college wasn't that long ago, you can do this.) Then drag it through the salty, sweet and deep flavor of peanut sauce.
Of course there is the Number 9 on the menu, which is Number 1 in our hearts. Citrus marinated raw beef crown a nest of sliced onions and thin disks of lemon. You don't so much eat this dish as you inhale the aromas and feel the textures. If you love Vietnamese food, this is the payoff. The way they coax such big, intoxicating flavors out of seemingly simple ingredients. Onions, beef, lemon, and herbs - in America that becomes a hamburger with caramelized onions and lemonade. The result in Vietnam is a light, fragrant dish which may just encourage you to go for a run.
The menu lists other offbeat selections, such as tender morsels of goat swimming in a sea of yellow curry and slices of onion. Chinese brocoli is a heaping pile of leafy greens attached to thick, woodsy stems all sauteed in lip-smacking oyster sauce. These are dishes which only the adventurous diners usually order, but anyone willing to take a chance will likely enjoy.
Most of our shirts at home tell the tale of our love affair with Vietnamese cuisine. But the stains we love the most come from Nine Roses. Maybe that sounds weird, but we say it is strong indication of why Nine Roses is the best Vietnamese in the town.
Food - Eagle. Consistently the best. Nine Roses does the little things right which makes a best difference. The pork is sliced in thicker than normal chunks, which allows a nice crust to develop while preserving a tender interior. The veggies are always fresh enough to make noise when you bite into them.
Bar/Wine/Service - Birdie. You don't drink wine here. You drink beer, tea, or soda chanh. The latter is a teeth chattering excursion extolling lemonade's finer virtues. Service does a very good job of bridging the gap between the large menu and what you want to eat. Plus, if you have a question as to how to eat what you order, just ask. Then watch as nimble fingers make easy work.
Overall - Eagle. We sum up our endorsement of Nine Roses with a cinematic aside. In Field of Dreams, there is a wonderful scene in which Terrance Mann describes America's love affair with baseball thusly, "The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come." (Spine tingling audio here).
Well, we have eaten Vietnamese all over the city, and the one constant has been Nine Roses. People will come. People should most definitely go.