by Cheryl Baehr
The psychologist Abraham Maslow describes a peak experience as an ecstatic state tinged with euphoria and involving sudden feelings of intense happiness, well-being, wonder and awe. I had a peak experience while eating the butter-garlic chicken wings at Mi Linh (9737 Manchester Road; 314-918-8868-).
This is not hyperbole. I seriously lost all connection to the space-time continuum at the first bite. I should have been better prepared for this moment. After all, the smell of the garlicky fried breading announced the wings' arrival before we even got a look at them. Then, as they were placed on the table, we could see that these were no ordinary wings, but plump, meaty behemoths that glistened atop a bed of shimmering green and white onions.
However, nothing prepared me for the first bite of juicy garlic and black-peppery-seasoned meat that was delicately encased in the perfect crunchy breading. This wasn't strictly Panko, but it wasn't like traditional flour fried chicken breading. It was like a beautiful marriage of the two styles.
I can't believe that I came dangerously close to passing up these poultry wonders. Garlic is one of my favorite things on the planet, and butter is not far behind in my affection. I was therefore intrigued when I saw something called "Butter Garlic Wings" on Mi Linh's menu. I knew my dining companion felt the same, and after a few minutes with the menu, we sheepishly looked at one another.
"Did you see the 'Butter Garlic Wings' appetizer?" I asked.
"Yes...um...they could be amazing."
"But don't you think that this is the token 'white-people dish'? I mean, come on. If we order them, it's like we are amateurs."
"Yes, but it's butter and garlic. Do you really care?"
Indeed, I did not, although it became apparent that our fear of looking like naives was unfounded when we were guided to the wings by our server, the chef's daughter. After giving her complete autonomy to tell us her favorite menu items, she confidently pointed out the wings, explaining that the dish is a special family recipe and that she eats them almost every day. We were sold.
After our euphoric experience, I called co-owner, Dee-Dee Tran, to find out Mi Linh's wing secret. Although she couldn't fully divulge the tricks of the trade, she did explain that the key to the wings' awesomeness is in the wok, which explains their spot-on crispiness. Her brother, and Mi Linh's chef, Nelson Tran, studied under an old Chinese "wok master" in New York City who taught his apprentice wok technique using sand.
Once he mastered the wok, Nelson began experimenting with different recipes at home while working in various kitchens in New York, Seattle and Philadelphia. The wings, Dee-Dee explains, are a result of one of his experimental days when he was cooking for the family. Nelson and Dee-Dee wanted to come up with a dish that showcased the prominence of garlic and green onions in traditional Vietnamese cooking, but they wanted to put their own spin on it. As soon as Nelson served his sister the wings, she knew they had struck gold.
By gold, I mean the golden-fried garlic-buttery goodness that is these wings. Please do yourself a favor: Go to Mi Linh, and experience these wonders. Heck, belly up to the bar for beer and wings, Vietnamese style. After all, Buffalo may be the reigning wing king, but I'd put my money on these beasts from the east any day.