“Mi vit tiem” at Lily Restaurant, 3422
Martin Luther King Parkway, 277-7881.
Hours are Monday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Tuesday
through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Promising Lao-Thai-Chinese cuisine, Lily Restaurant
opened recently in a venue where several other
S.E. Asian restaurants had quickly come and
gone. The café’s odd décor (an umbrella hangs
from the ceiling, lavender color schemes are
sandwiched by brown carpeted walls) has remained
virtually unchanged for multiple incarnations.
Looks are deceiving in this case — a lot has
changed. For starters, the restaurant seems
to be busier than ever, even at odd hours of
the day. Secondly, the kitchen has distinct
style — this is no cookie cutter Asian hybrid.
Like most S.E. Asian cafés, soup is a strong
suit here. Unlike most others, soup does not
mean pho. In fact you can’t even find “pho”
on the menu. “Kuay tiew neau” is a similar Laotian
soup made with a mild beef stock. Ordered with
“rare beef,” it delivered a side of perfectly
rare beef. Ordered with tofu, it brought generous
amounts of seared bean curd. Both versions included
rice vermicelli and condiments you’d expect
at Vietnamese restaurants except with cabbage
instead of culantro and cilantro.
Some dishes had Lao names with Vietnamese names
in parentheses. “Kaow poon (bun thit nuong)”
was a soup from northern Laos made with a stock
of pork bones plus galangal, ginger, chilies,
garlic, lime leaves, shallots and pork. It was
served with ground peanuts, cabbage and carrots.
One menu section listed “Chinese soups” that
all had Vietnamese names. Their common denominator
seemed to be “Chinese five spice” (star anise,
fennel, cloves, cinnamon and Szechuan pepper).
“Mi thit tiem” was a sensational $9 soup, delivering
a quarter of a crisply smoked duck in a bowl
of chicken/duck stock with thin egg noodles,
scallions, ginger, wolfberries (goji), a prune
(I think) and leaves of basil and cai lan, a
versatile vegetable the leaves of which resemble
mustard greens and the stems of which resemble
broccoli. You can also order this dish dry,
with duck on the side so it stays crisp.
There were some surprises on the appetizer menu,
too. “Vietnamese egg rolls,” a special one-day,
were stuffed with black fungus, minced pork
and rice noodles and served with pickled white
radish, Napa cabbage, carrots and lemon sauce.
A Bangkok roll, one of the best vegetarian dishes
in town, was stuffed with avocado, tofu, freshly
cooked egg, chilled cucumber and rice noodles
with a completely different lemon sauce with
tamarind. An order of two long rolls provided
a dozen large pieces for $4. Banh mi sandwiches
were made with rice flour baguettes and a choice
of meats, including “falau” which usually means
intestines, stomach, lungs, kidney and heart
but tasted more like headcheese here. Pot stickers
were fried crisply.
Cai lan was featured in several other dishes,
both Chinese and Lao. “Pad see ew (banh pho
lon xao kho)” was made with flat rice noodles,
cai lan, egg, five spice, garlic and a choice
of proteins. “Pad kawpao” was one of the spicier
dishes I tried, stir fried pork with considerable
garlic, chilies, basil and fish sauce. A single
curry, red, was offered with generous amounts
of chicken, fresh straw mushrooms, cai lan,
carrots, basil, cauliflower and snow peas but
little or no coconut milk. “Xao xa ot” was a
lemongrass and squid dish with cai lan, straw
mushrooms, and chilies. Pad Thai was heavy with
peanuts. Laotian salads were well represented
with familiar ones such as green papaya, seafood
and laab as well as some rarely seen ones like
“namtok,” which usually means blood or organ
Bottom line — Lily is an exciting new S.E. Asian
hybrid with cuisine similar to what one expects
in west coast towns where Asians are the majority
WineFest added a Tuesday June 5 event, Wine
Flights, that focuses on specific wines or wine
pairings, at Gateway Market, Vintage Wine &
Spirits, Willis Infiniti, Winestyles West Glen
and Sbrocco. Details www.winefestdesmoines.com.