I admit that I am not familiar with Vietnamese food. So, whether or not Hue Palace, in Joliet, has authentic fare is kind of a loss on me. But the food was good. This was, however, one of the times I found myself wishing I had ordered the dish my dining companion chose.
I had the pleasure of eating dinner with Mohra Gavankar. Gavankar, of Joliet, shared so many great stories of her life that even if we had rotten food, I would have enjoyed my dinner. Gavankar was born in India, a country to which she returns once a year.
She is a fascinating woman, the conversation was easy and full of laughs. If you are at all involved in Joliet, you have probably met Gavankar. She is currently a secretary on the board at Lewis University and Joliet Area Historical Museum. She also serves as the president of the Joliet Area Community Hospice guild. She will be changing her role at the Joliet Area Historical Museum, because she wants to spend more time in the trenches with the children who visit the museum. To outsiders, Gavankar spends perhaps an exorbitant amount of time volunteering, but she believes in making a difference.
"I feel as though I don't have the right to criticise unless I can fix it or find someone else to fix it," she said.
I was lucky at dinner, because both the conversation and food were good.
Gavankar ordered Ga Xao Ca Ri, chicken stir fry in a curry sauce. It was, admittedly spicy and I would have liked a yogurt-based smoothie to balance it out. But, the flavor was great and worth the heat of the food.
I ordered the Phở Do Bien to start. The rice noodle soup had shrimp, squid, crab meat, fish, shrimp balls, cilantro, and onions. The soup also came with a side dish of fresh basil and bean sprouts. You were supposed to add that to the soup. But, when I added the basil to the soup, it overpowered the other flavors, so I took the leaves back out.
In addition to the soup, I ordered Chem Chep Xao Hanh Gung, a mussel stir fry with ginger and onion. Again, this dish was very good, but was spicy. In fact, I finished my dish, but it was too spicy for my taste and I would not order it again.
Another thing I would not order again, not because it was bad, but because the tastes might have been too strong for my taste buds, was the Chanh Muoi, a preserved salt lemonade. Theoretically, I should have loved this drink. I like extra salt with my margarita, which should translate to liking lemonade-flavored beverages (or lime) with salt. But the preserved salt lemonade was too much. A couple sips and while I appreciated it, I ordered a coke.
By the time our entrees had arrived, I found out that Gavankar has commited herself to a 16-day walk she will complete in the fall. Like much of how she approaches her life, she is committing to this because it is a challenge. She often tries things to prove that she can do them because she thinks maybe she cannot.
Gavankar impresses me with her independance and her zeal for like. She also comes across as a very real person. She isn't going to tell you anything that isn't true. And, for her, the food was also good. She described it as very flavorful and said she would come back to eat at the restaurant again.