It takes considerable tenacity to move to a foreign country and start a new business. Fortunately, Phong Nguyen, owner of Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant August Moon (3635 Prytania St., 899-5129; www.augustmoonneworleans.com), possesses this quality in abundance. After North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam in 1975, Nguyen made 13 attempts to escape, beginning at age 12. Each time, the government captured him, and when he was 18, he was ordered to spend a year and a half farming rice in the U Minh labor camp.
Nguyen escaped and came to New Orleans in 1989. Two years later, he opened August Moon in a 100-year-old Prytania Street store. Nguyen, who learned Mandarin and Cantonese cooking at a now-defunct Chinese restaurant, says his menu melds restaurant dishes with the home cooking he grew up with in Vietnam. An August Moon origina is lemongrass shrimp — crispy shrimp seasoned with sweet onions and lemongrass, served with vermicelli noodles and house-made sauce.
"Every sauce here — and every single (menu) item — we make from scratch," he says.
Nguyen listens to customers' opinions, and has elimiated all MSG from dishes, reduced the oil and added an array of vegetarian options at customers' requests. Any dish can be made without meat, and vegetarian sauces include vegetable extract instead of chicken stock.
"The chef is my nephew, and we revise a lot of Chinese cooking so it is lighter, healthier," Nguyen says.
August Moon is expanding to the Westbank, where a second location will open, appropriately, in August. "One reason I got into the restaurant business is because I love to eat," says Nguyen, who admits he fell in love with New Orleans partly because of its cuisine.
August Moon owner Phong Nguyen (left) and line cook Tho Dinh serve up Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine.