The last time I was in Biloxi, back in July, I noticed another place that had just opened up, hopefully named the Lucky House Vietnamese Restaurant.
I popped in there on my way out of town, but there was something strange about it. In the back, ensconced in a glass vestibule, there stood a man with a man-sized cleaver hacking away on a heavy butcher block. All around him hung ducks and chickens, red-tinted strips of pork, and half of a side of pig, its skin roasted to a bubbly crackle. These are Cantonese Chinese specialties.
I ordered a bowl of pho, but saw that everyone else in the restaurant was eating something from the glass meat menagerie. I asked the server if she might bring me just a small taste of the duck, and then I watched her have a lively conversation with the guy with the cleaver, who looked at me, looked at the duck, and looked at me again.
A few minutes later, she brought a plate with a few pieces of everything in the collection. When I protested, saying that I really only wanted a small taste of the duck, she said that it was on the house, that the cook wanted me to try everything.
So I tasted. It was good, for the most part. A man who walked with an ownerly air came over to ask me what I thought, and we began talking.
"These are Chinese meats," he started to say, when I told him that I'd been wondering what they were doing in a Vietnamese restaurant. "Are you Chinese?" he asked me in Cantonese, before going into the usual "but you look Japanese" refrain that I often hear from Chinese people.
"Our chef is from New York," he said, with a subtle kind of pride. When I told him that's where I'm from, he was only too happy to follow up with, "Oh, you must know Tan Wong then. That's where he was before." I knew Tan Wong, I told him. It's a block away from where I used to work. What I didn't tell him was that it was a middling sort of place, and instead we had a warm "It's a small world!" sort of moment.
I ate the rest of my lunch and listened to the owner talk to his sister about me. I got ready to leave, but was slowed by the credit card reader, which was apparently broken. With only enough cash for a tip, I asked if there was an ATM nearby, when the owner hurried over to tell me to forget about it. "No, really. Don't worry about it," he said. I protested, until he said, "It's okay, really. We're Chinese."
This really meant something to him, so I relented and accepted his kindness, taking his card and writing on the back how much I owed. I've been carrying that card on me since, to make sure that I wouldn't forget to pay him.
I got back down to Biloxi a couple of weeks ago. I remembered the card and the $6.75 I owed. I dragged my feet for a week, too busy to make my way over for dinner. Finally, a few days ago, I drove by with cash in hand. Their sign was down, and a vinyl banner hung in the window. "Kim Long Vietnamese Restaurant coming soon," it says. The $6.75 is still sitting in my pocket.