My meal was delicious if a bit surreal. When I arrived, the restaurant, which is quite large, was completely empty. About halfway through my meal, a family came in and greeted the owners excitedly. It was obvious that the Ca Dao owners operated another restaurant.
I asked the owner for the story when he came by my table. He explained that he and his wife owned a pho restaurant farther down the road for 17 years. He said that his landlord raised his rent astronomically and, with business declining due to the recession, he decided to move to this new location. I asked why Bamboo Grill had closed. "No business," he said. I looked around at the empty dining room. He laughed.
He told me he expected his customers to follow him to the new location. He put a sign on the door of the closed restaurant and the landlord removed it.
He also told me that before opening his pho restaurant he operated the first Vietnamese restaurant in Atlanta, also called Ca Dao. Then he told me something that shocked me.
"I was thinking Bien Thuy might be the oldest," I said. That restaurant, also on Buford Highway, was an amazing spot that offered frequently off-the-menu dishes that I've never encountered in the city since. The owner, Suzanne Bojtchewky, wrote a cookbook with the late Terrell Vermont, one of our dining critics at Creative Loafing.
Suzanne sold Bien Thuy and it became a Vietnamese-style coffee shop. The story was that Suzanne had returned to Vietnam.
Not so, the owner of Ca Dao told me. "Suzanne works at the IRS; she's a good friend of my wife," he said. I quizzed him repeatedly, because it is hard for me to believe that someone of her talent wouldn't still be in business here. Weird.
Since I was alone at Ca Dao, I didn't eat much. There are over a dozen varieties of pho on the menu, but I wan't in the mood. My latest Vietnamese obsession has been "burnt rice" from the bottom of the pot in which it's cooked, topped with grilled pork. (Nearby Chateau de Saigon serves it.) Ca Dao's version is excellent. The pork had an unusual note of sweetness, but not like that of pork cooked in a clay pot. It may have been the fish sauce I poured over it. I did notice the menu said it included lime.
I also ordered a starter of huge summer rolls — rice paper wrapped around the usual herbs with a very flavorful sausage and two thin, fried rolls, one containing shrimp. One of the interior rolls actually was more than crunchy; it was hard and brittle. Eat with care.
I look forward to exploring more of the menu. And if Suzanne is really there at the IRS, how about doing something about those two registered letters I received from your employer last week? Thanks.
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