Late last year, in the midst of the pandemic, the chef at a new Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco cooked up a special meal to cheer up demoralized staff: #1 Dac Biet Fried Rice, or crab fried rice with "the works." The offering at Lily ended up becoming wildly popular, a fact that Mashed calls "ironic"—because it was a joke right from the start. The dish created by chef Rob Lam is a $72 (!) meal crammed with wagyu beef (from cattle that were fed olives to increase the meat's umami), two kinds of caviar, roe from sea urchins, rock shrimp, three kinds of crab, and, of course, a hefty helping of jasmine rice, all topped with black truffle garnish. "The premise was, let's do something so over-the-top and bougie," Lam tells the San Francisco Chronicle of the stunt platter that he intended to sell for only two weeks or so around the holidays.
What Lam and crew didn't expect was that the dish would become a must-have among the city's influencer set—the three or four orders of it that they'd anticipated selling daily morphed into more than 20. To make matters worse, despite the eye-popping price tag, the restaurant was actually losing money on it due to the high-cost ingredients. Lam also feared that Lily, which had just opened in October, would get the wrong reputation. "This wasn't us," he says. "It wasn't who we wanted to be." And so at the end of June, after a six-month run, Lily pulled its unexpectedly famous dish. "We did this as a joke!" the restaurant posted on Instagram. "A stoned out, bored ass, pandemic gift. To soothe a take out nation during the holidays." The post added: "This dish isn't even Vietnamese!!!" That doesn't mean fans will never see the expensive rice again: Lily noted in its post that it may show up again during Dungeness crab season, or perhaps on some future "secret menu." (Read more weird food stories.)