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New Lunch Menu at East West Spans from Steak French Fry Burritos to Palm Heart Salads, Linking Authentic East and West Cuisines

A grin creeps across the face of East West Brewing Co.’s executive chef Matt Venzke when he recalls the first time he ever had Vietnamese food.

Growing up in Los Angeles, he was surrounded by some of the world’s greatest cooking, but at home was subject to a boring rotation of hamburgers, Hot Pockets, casseroles and meatloaf. Once he was old enough, he began exploring the city’s ethnic restaurants, partially to shock his parents with the new flavors he was embracing. This enthusiasm for exploration led him to his first bowl of phở at 16, which started a long and fruitful relationship with what is now his favorite cuisine. The new lunch menu at East West highlights Venzke’s appreciation for Vietnamese fare as well as his Southern California roots.

Before going on to become a full time chef, Venzke toured the states and also the world playing in and tour managing punk bands. He chuckles when thinking of the unlikely path that took him from rocking crowds to overseeing a kitchen in the heart of Saigon. Though when he describes them, the jobs’ similarities are obvious. The manic creativity and energy that once fueled guitar licks now vitalizes bold dishes. The greatest part of playing music, he says, was making people happy. Similarly, his biggest thrill as a chef comes from knowing a guest enjoyed their meal and their day is a little better for it.

Vietnamese Favorites

By the time Venzke moved to Vietnam last year, he already had ample experience with Vietnamese food, but in Saigon, every street corner, food cart and hem gem provided unique versions of dishes he hadn’t tried before. He explored the city one meal at a time, becoming more appreciative with each bite. It’s the world’s “freshest, cleanest, crispiest style of cuisine … the flavors just explode in your mouth,” he says when asked to articulate what it is about Vietnamese food he loves so much.

California Burrito. 

Venzke takes note of his favorite salads, soups, seafood, and rice and noodle dishes he encounters in the city and tries to make them himself in the East West kitchen. His formal education from an American culinary school as well as time spent in the kitchen of his uncle - a classically trained French chef - granted him the skills to recreate such dishes. Venzke then relies on his Vietnamese staff and their own local knowledge to perfect them. His sous chef, Ms. Tu Nguyen, was raised in Vietnam but spent six years studying to be a chef in America. She helps to ensure that each dish pleases Vietnamese diners who have grown up eating them. It has to be the “perfect blend of salty, sweet and sour,” and the native staff knows the ideal ratios.

The result of combining Venzke’s creative impulses with the team’s intrinsic understanding results in a style they’ve dubbed Modern Vietnamese. The dishes, which comprise half of the new lunch menu, are familiar Vietnamese favorites with elevated ingredients and the occasional Western tweak. The Lotus Root Palm Heart Salad, pictured above, is one example of the new offerings. It blends fresh, locally-sourced shrimp, lotus and palm roots and chili sauce with pork belly braised in lemongrass, ginger, fish sauce and a splash of East West’s signature Hefeweizen beer. The result is a clean and complex but balanced dish that appeals to Vietnamese pallets. The sautéed beef with mustard green and kale and teriyaki salmon cơm tấm are two other dishes people will immediately recognize and love.

Southern California Innovations

Beset with warm waters teeming with seafood, fertile soil and a climate ideal for growing produce, Southern California has all the factors necessary to make it a foodie paradise. It’s potential as an American hotbed of culinary innovation is further nurtured by its close proximity to Mexico and a large influx of immigrants who bring with them a variety of family recipes and flavors. With roots in the area, the owner’s of East West wanted to bring the region’s spirit to Saigon and having grown up there, Venzke is able to authentically carry out their vision.

Putting french fries inside a carne asada burrito seems strange to anyone who isn’t native to San Diego, but the warm, crispy starches pair perfectly with the charred beef, gooey cheese, silky guacamole and rich sour cream and white sauces. Venzke gives the lunchtime standard a touch of Vietnam by marinating the steak in fish sauce with Asian spices and using local tomatillo. Another standout Southern California dish that further conflates east and west in homage to the brewery’s name is the spicy garlic tiger prawn tacos. The local shellfish are charred for a crisp, smoky flavor that balances the citric lime and cilantro notes with local chilis and fish sauce for an extra kick.

Spicy Garlic Tiger Prawn Tacos.

Southern California is also one of the most important craft beer hubs in the world, so it’s no surprise that East West’s beers make their way into many of the dishes. Instead of using water in sauce and marinade recipes, Venzke substitutes in his locally crafted beer. Doing so lets a subtle sweetness and flavor seep into the foods. Even when not used in the dishes themselves, the full lineup of brews serves as perfect complements. The lighter, more nuanced seafood and chicken dishes pair well with the soft Hefeweizen, rosé and golden ale while the bolder, bitter hop notes found in the pale ale and IPA balance out spicier, hotter dishes. A lavish chocolate stout, creamy vanilla porter or sweet Belgian ale dripping with dark fruits brings out any dessert’s decadent personality.

Bold Variety

While catering to people working nearby looking for a convenient and affordable meal, the new lunch menu isn’t the only place to find Venzke’s take on Vietnamese standards or his wild western concoctions. East West’s bar bite menu includes a one of a kind version of chạo tôm - shrimp and pork sausage wrapped around sugarcane that was once reserved for Hue’s royal banquet halls. By coating the sticks with Hefeweizen beer batter and deep frying them, they become a Saigon version of corn dogs - the classic American fair food. Similarly, Viet-Cajun flavors have become popular here and abroad, and East West adds several important dishes to the emerging canon. For example, dried grilled squid, a familiar dish throughout Vietnam, gets a Cajun remix with okra seasoning and spicy turmeric sauce. The fried, pickled luffa served with Cajun sauce perfectly embodies the unexpected thrills of cross-culture mashups.

Saigon Shrimp Corn Dogs.

Venzke says he is constantly looking to learn new recipes, ingredients and methods because “I get bored easily.” It’s this same quality that led him to create a new lunch menu that truly lives up to the brewery’s name. By bringing together classic dishes from both Saigon and Southern California with some overlap in between, the restaurant provides affordable, exciting while at the same time comforting meals for a variety of palate. Lunch menu items range from 75K - 165K and are available Monday - Friday from 11 am - 3 pm. 

 

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East West Brewing Co.'s Facebook Page

East West Brewing Co.'s website

Monday – Wednesday, 11am – 12am

Thursday – Saturday, 11am – 1am

Sunday, 11am – 12am

181 – 185 Ly Tu Trong, D.1, Ho Chi Minh City

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