Thai and Danielle Dang have certainly gotten to know the Pilsen locals over the last few months as they prepare to open HaiSous, the couple’s hotly-anticipated upcoming Vietnamese restaurant. That’s the silver lining behind the delays: The Dangs have made friends. Take the street vendor stationed in front of the restaurant. Thai Dang wants him to work for them during the winter months when frostbite is a threat to street vending.
Continuity helps, as many of the core team at HaiSous also worked at Embeya, the West Loop restaurant that Thai Dang put his heart and soul into. After leaving the restaurant after a vicious split with Embeya ownership, he feels vindication is at hand.
“It’s such a great feeling to be able to do this—to still stand—after what just happened,” Dang said.
The legal battle between the Dangs and Embeya owner Attila Gyulai continues. Thai Dang said Gyulai has fled the country and hasn’t appeared on court. Their experience at Embeya, where Danielle Dang worked as beverage director, has soured them on restaurateurs and large hospitality groups. They sought independence. Thai Dang talks about how cooks and other employees aren’t paid enough while principles and executives enjoy lavish lifestyles. That’s a driver behind HaiSous’ companion cafe. Thai Dang feels that Cà Phê Dá with its late hours is his way of giving back to the workers.
They’re about two weeks they’ll have their final inspection, and HaiSous’ will open after that, as construction crews last week worked on the open kitchen. Thai Dang is eager to showcase open-fire cooking using charcoal. He’s particularly excited about his custom-made clay pots, describing Vietnamese clay pot cooking, called kho. The pots are engulfed by flames which will heat up items comparable to a Dutch oven. Repeated use will help the pots’ seasoning, providing it with richer flavors. That will be great for stews and braised meats. There’s also a rotisserie. Thai Dang said the menu’s finished.
“All you see is flame, it’s enticing,” Thai Dang said. “But it’s also the heart of the restaurant.”
The kitchen’s design features a black backdrop so the flames will be more visible to diners. There’s a chef’s table where diners will be treated to a tasting menu. Danielle Dang designed the space and she talks about embracing the plywood finishes rather than hiding them. There’s bench seating lined up against the eastern wall of the 115-seating dining room. She’s especially excited about how the front of the dining room, with effects imported from Vietnam, is coming together.
Thai Dang’s own immigrant experience helps him related to many Mexican immigrants living in Pilsen. He talks with some of the Hispanic construction crew inside the restaurant, complimenting them on their work using some of the Spanish he’s learned while working in kitchens. As restaurants with chefs and owners from outside Pilsen continue to buy property in the neighborhood, Dang is keenly aware of what it means to be part of the community rather than just sticking out.
HaiSous is one of Chicago’s most-anticipated openings this year. Keep it here for more details.