There are crumbs on the floor. A lot of them. And some on your chair. Grab a napkin, dust it off and take a seat. A sparkling dining room is not one of Thiem Hung Bakery's assets. In fact, with just a few menu items and service best described as confused, Thiem Hung doesn't have many. Really, there's only one reason to visit the tiny bakery whose only sweets appeared to be green and brown agar desserts, but it's a doozy. The space is small enough (just a few tables) that I was able to hear the buzz amongst my English-speaking fellow diners: Thiem Hung is the place for bò né.
"Everywhere else it's so chewy," one young lady told her companions, who were still discussing the wild night before. It makes sense that the after party crowd would be attracted to bò né as a hangover cure. It's perhaps the most indulgent version of steak-and-eggs you'll find anywhere. And there wasn't a single person ordering anything else at Thiem Hung on a Sunday around noon.
The elements arrived at my table in spurts. First the plate of iceberg lettuce and a small plastic container filled with likably loose homemade mayo crowned with iron-dense pâté. Then a single baguette, freshly baked and warm with the crisp but thin crust that differentiates the Vietnamese version from the French one. Finally, the bus boy, the only employee with a few words of English, wheeled a bull-shaped iron platter to my table.
A sugary soy marinade suffused every bit of the chunks of steak, oozing onto the sizzling platter and creating a syrupy, salty sauce. It seeped into a soft meatball (quite unlike the dense ones in phở or sweet, porky nem nướng) and stained the bottom of the over-easy egg a deep, honeyed brown. In turn, the broken yolk coated the beef with its own luscious sauce. Enveloping each other little by little, the plate turned out to be a sensuous lesson in synthesis.
I tore off bits of baguette and spread them with mayonnaise and liver before stuffing them with tender chunks of steak, egg and cilantro leaves. I couldn't bear to break up the velvety overall effect with the lettuce. I ate those shreds alone, between bites.
I had no plans to finish the whole platter, but did despite myself. And when I did, my fingers retained the succulent aroma of the sizzling meat through the better part of a day's hand washes. I didn't mind.