I decided to try it with a twist. 7 courses of goat: dê 7 món.
7 full courses of goat, or any type of meat, is risky business. Done wrong, it can easily be a heavy, plodding march of meat, a lunch that leaves you yearning for a fruit smoothie and a nap. It's a wonder churrascariaparking lots aren't littered with the wrecked cars of peacefully slumbering patrons.
Fortunately, undoubtedly owing to some chef-ly sleight of hand, the courses at Binh Dan Restaurant are neat, small, and sufficiently herb-garnished that you somehow never get the feeling like you're slipping away into a meat-coma.
"You want it with everything?" our waiter/owner/general helpful hoverer asked, slightly doubtfully, as I ordered the dê bảy món.
"Yes, everything," I said, nodding.
"All the dishes, too?" he continued. "Even the blood?"
"Yes, everything," I nodded more, exaggeratedly, like a broken puppet, hoping that my enthusiasm and openness would translate.
"Even the normal sauce?" he asked. "I can bring you different sauce if you don't like it."
"I'll like it," I said - and with true confidence this time, because every time someone in a Vietnamese restaurant suggests I'm not going to like a certain sauce, I know exactly what sauce it's going to be.
Well, one of two things - mắm nêm or mắm ruốc.
No, not chocolate: don't make the same mistake I did.
Both are unassuming little purplish brown piles that pack an extreme fermented-seafood punch to the face - even the amount that'll fit on the end of one chopstick will flavor a few bites to excess.
While I admit that the first time I had it I thought that they had accidentally left normal fish sauce out in the sun for a couple weeks and secretly feared I might die in the next few hours, I urge you to keep trying it: the appeal nuzzles its way into your tastebuds eventually.
Anyway, the waiter finally took my word for it that I wouldn't run screaming from his restaurant at the sight of blood or the smell of fermented seafood paste, and withdrew.
When he reappeared, it was time for the goat onslaught.
Just as we were starting to get the feel for grilled meat, imagining ourselves in a park or a night market or a dive bar, Course 2, a cold wobbly pudding of raw goat blood, liver slices, and peanut showed up, adorned with one sprig of cilantro. Our friendly waiter popped his head over the counter again: "You eat it with lime juice and mint... it's better that way!"
The pudding had the slightly shocking texture of cartilage-adorned Jell-O, and the refreshing, clean finish of the freshest sashimi. Paired with the sausages, it served as a citrusy, cool palate-cleanser.
To trickle into the spaces in our now rapidly filling stomachs, the next four courses were stews: a spicy, curry-heavy soup laden with skin-on slices; an impossibly rich, silky broth with a layer of glistening oil on top; a slightly darker stew with a centerpiece of flower-shaped tripe; a nearly black potion rumored to contain Chinese herbs for comfortable digestion.
I was charmed by the innovative nature of the first three dishes and comforted by the hominess of the next three, but the herbal concoction sat strangely with me.
A woman from the next table had been eyeing me ever since the first spoonful of goat blood went into my mouth: she approached. "Where did you learn to eat this?" she exclaimed, then went on to explain that while this place was good, the meal was miles better in Vietnam.
Alas, the transition from stuffing-my-face-face to talking-with-strangers face took so long that she was gone before I had the chance to ask her where in Vietnam, I implore you, where?!