Cuc Gach Quan
Owned by architect Tran Binh and his French-Vietnamese wife, Thai Tu-Tho, Binh acquired a derelict colonial mansion and reimagined it as an indoor-outdoor fantasia, blending historic details (antique armoires; a wall map of 1960’s Saigon) with contemporary touches (gorgeous lighting; a floating staircase) to create a strikingly romantic space—a gauzy, soft-focus realm that plays with one’s sense of time. Pre-1975 Vietnamese folk plays on a vintage reel-to-reel tape machine. A flowering cherry tree in the courtyard provides the fragrance. But graceful interiors are a dime a dozen in Saigon. It’s the cooking that makes Cuc Gach Quan remarkable. From an open kitchen, the chefs, Co Diep and Chi Bay, send out a phenomenal thit kho to, or clay-pot-stewed pork belly; intensely flavored but not at all heavy, it tingles the tongue then melts in the mouth. Eggplant cooked in scallion oil is deliciously smoky and tender. Diep’s cloudlike house-made tofu is lightly fried with lemongrass, shallots, and chiles, creating a sauce worth bottling and smuggling home.