Why The Popularity Of This $72 Fried Rice Is So Ironic

What if you threw a party where people had to buy crazy-expensive fried rice, and everybody showed up? According to a story told by the restaurant critic at the San Francisco Chronicle, a Vietnamese restaurant located just a few blocks from the Golden Gate Bridge learned that if you're going to put a joke item on the menu, make sure your patrons get the joke.

It was holiday season, December 2020. This would normally be a time of celebration, but the people at Lily and everywhere else were enduring another COVID-19 pandemic peak. To distract a demoralized kitchen crew that was cranking out nothing but takeout, Lily's chef, Rob Lam, came up with "#1 Dac Biet Fried Rice," which translates from Vietnamese to "the works." "We called it the #1 douchebag fried rice," Lam told the Chronicle. 

Regardless of what staff might have called customers behind their backs, a lot of them ordered the dish: a heap of jasmine rice, Wagyu beef, sea urchin roe, two kinds of caviar, three kinds of crab meat, rock shrimp, and black truffle trimmings. For $72, all that almost sounds like a bargain. San Francisco clientele most definitely thought so. "We were supposed to sell three or four a night," the Instagram account @lilyonclement posted in June. "Not twenty!!! Sheesh." Lily had intended to run the special item for two weeks, but demand was so high it couldn't manage to pull the dish off the menu until more than six months after Christmas.

Lily feared its $72 fried rice was turning it into an Instagram destination

It might seem strange for a Vietnamese restaurant to get rid of a dish that was both the most expensive and the most successful on the menu. The San Francisco Chronicle reported, however, that at $72 the crab (and Wagyu, and caviar, and truffles) fried rice didn't turn a profit for Lily. The ingredients were simply too premium. The Wagyu beef even came from cattle that were fed olives to create a healthier and more umami meat. The fried rice with "the works" was also creating an identity crisis for the restaurant. The San Francisco eatery had opened in October 2020, just two months before executing its culinary joke. Being so new, Lily didn't want to be known as the Instagram-ready attraction for influencers. "It isn't who we wanted to be," chef Rob Lam told the Chronicle.

People still come to Lily to ask for "the works." Lam is sorry-not-sorry to let them down. "We are sad/glad to announce the departure of our crab fried rice," the restaurant posted on Instagram on June 30. So while Lily bids the dish adieu (Or, to quote the Instagram post, "So long. Farewell. Alvederzene. Goodbye"), it might be merely saying, "See you later." It's hard to turn away that much customer love, after all.

"Perhaps the fried rice might come back during Dungeness crab season," the Instagram post continued. "Perhaps we do it on a secret menu."