At August Moon's (875 Manhattan Blvd., Harvey, 504-302-7977; 3635 Prytania St., 504-899-5129; www.augustmoonneworleans.com) West Bank location, which opened in 2011, waiters bustle, carrying heavy trays of Chinese and Vietnamese food to booths in a colorful dining room. Visible from the open kitchen's window, cooks are hard at work slicing, chopping, stir-frying and arranging food.
Owner Phong Nguyen and his wife Cuc opened the original Uptown location in 1993, but the pair longed for a larger restaurant built to their specifications. Every detail in the new building, from lamps to appliances to tiles, was ordered with atmosphere and function in mind. "All the design, decor, kitchen, equipment, everything," Nguyen says. "When we put it together, all the colors and everything, I liked it. It's a little strange in here, but I like that." They arranged the main dining room without center tables to create a sense of privacy for business clients and families, and a 100-seat banquet room features three soothing blue-and-green murals, all watery scenes of various places and eras in Vietnam.
Nguyen's history in the restaurant business goes back to his days as a Cafe Du Monde waiter when he first arrived in New Orleans in 1989. Since opening August Moon, he has studied food management and service techniques in an effort to improve the restaurant.
"The restaurant business is a very tough business, but we love doing this because we can create a new dish any time," he says. "It's a creative thing,"
The current menu, offered at both locations, features items like lightly battered crispy lemongrass shrimp and mild, creamy crabmeat-and-asparagus soup. August Moon also is known within New Orleans' Vietnamese community for its roast duck.
Working with his wife and executive chef Joseph Truong, Nguyen says four elements are important when constructing the restaurant's dishes — huong, or aroma, sac, or color, my, arrangement or presentation and finally vi, or taste. This attention to detail is apparent on each platter. Fried rice is sculpted into globes, and steak entrees are presented on beds of greens for color and contrast. The team also takes note of trends, like the shift toward healthy eating.
"Right now everybody cares about health," Nguyen says. "[So for things like] our Lousiana fresh blue crab, we steam it, we don't fry it ... then glaze [it] with a sauce." Traditionally indulgent items, like fried shrimp, are flash-fried in hotter oil to reduce fat content.
In the future, Nguyen and his wife plan to continue tending to the culmination of one of their biggest dreams.
"When I was in my country, in Vietnam, I just wished I could have a new bicycle, but I didn't have it," Nguyen says. "When we started with the restaurant business, we dreamed of having a restaurant the same way I dreamed of having a bicycle in my country. [It's] our dream come true."