How a $72 fried rice ‘stunt dish’ almost ruined a restaurant

When San Francisco restaurant Lily started offering a $72 dish called “#1 Dac Biet Fried Rice” late last year, diners and influencers alike called it delicious.

But the chef and cooks there called it “#1 douchebag fried rice.”

Rob Lam, the chef at the upscale Vietnamese restaurant in the city’s Richmond District, concocted the dish — đặc biệt meaning, roughly, “special” — as a troll on the gold-flaked gimmicks that other restaurants have touted in order to make headlines.

“The premise was, let’s do something so over-the-top and bougie,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle.

But the decadent dish became so popular — and was so much work for the kitchen staff to put together — the eatery ultimately felt forced to remove it from their menu last month.

“It’s too hard to keep up with y’all,” they wrote in an Instagram post announcing the dish’s devastating departure.

Lam, along with restauranteurs Lily and Lucy Lieu, first came up with the #1 Dac Biet Fried Rice after deciding to launch their own “stunt dish” in December 2020, just two months after their doors opened on the heels of the coronavirus pandemic.

The hefty portion of woke-seared fried rice was replete with premium red king crab from Japan, eco-certified sturgeon caviar from California and steak from olive-fed cattle, which imbued the beef with more depth of flavor. Lam’s team also used a variety of crab pieces and parts to create a stock, which they reduced to its essence and used to create a highly concentrated crab butter.

Soon they were routinely selling up to 20 orders per night. So it came as no surprise when the dish would become more work — often leaving kitchen staff stressed and, in restaurant parlance, “in the weeds” — than its sales were worth.

Lily entrance
Lily’s $72 Dac Biet Fried Rice “isn’t even Vietnamese!!!” the restaurant clarified in an Instagram post.

“This wasn’t us,” Lam told the Chronicle of the meal that was never meant to become such a culinary hit. “It wasn’t who we wanted to be.”

In June, Lily ditched the #1 Dac Biet Fried Rice with the candid announcement on social media, saying they were “sad/glad” to be saying goodbye.

“We did this as a joke! A stoned out, bored ass, pandemic 😷 gift. To soothe a take out nation during the holidays. It was a two week special! We never meant for this to take off! This dish isn’t even 🇻🇳 Vietnamese!!!”

And for anyone who still inquires about getting the exorbitant eats, he has one message: “We will never have another uni in this restaurant,” a seemingly exasperated Lam said.