After a shocking car accident shut down neighborhood favorite Ha Long Bay for four months, the restaurant has reopened late September much to the delight of Madison locals.
Ha Long Bay, located at 1353 Williamson St., is a traditional Southeast Asian restaurant, serving a diverse selection of Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian dishes.
Not long ago, on May 4, a car struck the side of the Southeast Asian restaurant and partially destroyed its wall. While neither the driver or any customers were hurt, server Alex Thairuammit said the event was more than a little unsettling.
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“I was serving, and in just one second I turned around and saw the glass shatter. I thought maybe a table fell or something. But then I saw the car and a woman screaming,” Thairuammit said. “Luckily it was a slow time of the day, so there was maybe only three tables seated in the restaurant. I just had to calm everybody down, get everybody out and call 911.”
The restaurant itself is located on a quiet intersection of Madison, situated next to a bevy of clothing boutiques and small bars. The unassuming exterior doesn’t hint at the fact that it’s a hidden gem of the city.
What you find behind the doors is exactly what you want out of a comfort food restaurant — cushy, comfortable seating, eager waiters and heaps of food brought out on plates that you’ll wish you could finish eating, but probably can’t. It’s no wonder that Ha Long Bay is such a beloved Madison eatery.
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Since the accident, the staff has been working diligently to get the restaurant back up and running. While they initially thought it would take a couple of weeks to return to normal, it ended up taking far longer than expected, server Jacqueline Le said.
“We didn’t delay opening at all, but it’s a historical building so it took longer to get approvals. Everything is a process,” Le said. “They were literally finishing things up last week, we had the health inspection, and then we opened.”
The unexpected benefit of the hiatus was the staff finally being able to have some quality time together, considering the restaurant is only closed three days a year.
The owners, manager and most of the staff are family members. Even the staff who aren’t blood-related are considered family. The restaurant’s menu itself was actually inspired by Le family recipes.
“It’s recipes that my aunt has had, and has made in collaboration with her sisters,” Le said. “Her sisters in general have a lot of influence with her. Our family is very much a matriarchy.”
Every night after Ha Long Bay shuts its doors, the staff that worked that night all eat dinner together. This surprising bond between members of the Ha Long Bay team is not only very special, but also very hard to find when it comes to any place of work. It’s clear this bond has translated into the restaurant’s idolized food.
Le said the most popular dishes are the dumplings, spring rolls, crab meat wontons, pho, pad thai and most of the curries. She also said the drunken noodles are a favorite amongst locals. But if you wanted to try something a little different, and perhaps a little bit more authentic, Le recommended the Nam Khao.
“It’s a little more unique. It’s a crispy rice dish, not a normal stir fried noodle. You’re not going to see it on everyone’s menu,” Le said. “We really can’t take anything off the menu at this point because people really order everything. It’s all really well received. Not to toot our own horn, but we have done a good job at having a large menu and executing it well.”
The Tran family has been making delicious food for the public long before Ha Long Bay opened its doors. Jean and Chris Tran ran a successful Chinese restaurant in nearby Beaverdam for 20 years before making their way to Madison.
The staff and the Tran family were very eager to get the restaurant up and running again after the accident, yet there were some initial hesitations.
“They were thinking that they wanted to retire, but they’re workaholics,” Le laughed.
The restaurant is essentially a member of the Tran family itself, so for the staff, it was unnatural to be away from it.
With Ha Long Bay up and running again, the Tran family can get back to doing what they do best, and the residents of Madison can get back to eating the wide variety of dishes they have to offer.