Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Nam Viet - Irvine

If I tell you about a place whose food I don't love, do I do you a disservice? The chef came out to say hi, and wants to hear feedback. Should I give her my honest, somewhat negative opinion?

What would Buddha do?

A Vietnamese restaurant just opened in my neighborhood, and my first visit underwhelmed me. Really nice owner is making a go of it and I want her to succeed. But the food is overpriced for what it is, and not as good as others places. $7 for banh mi might fly in a neighborhood used to paying that much for a Quizno's sub. But any number of bakeries in Little Saigon sell a killer banh mi for $1.75.

We started with their excellent coffees: I had a Viet coffee with sweetened condensed milk, Katy had the latte. They've invested in some serious coffee equipment, and they know how to use it. Very good stuff.

We tried a couple dishes: the fried spring rolls, house special pho, and a roast pork banh mi. The spring rolls were nicely done - served with the classic accompaniements of lettuce leaf, mint, and fish sauce to dip in, these were competent, but not mind blowing. Total for lunch ran $35. Kinda spendy, in other words.

The banh mi was good, the pork more so than the baguette sourced from Gala Bakery in Long Beach. Baguettes are at their best very briefly after they're baked, so any banh mi shop that buys their bread elsewhere starts with a big handicap. The roast pork is very well seasoned with a slightly sweet glaze, and expertly grilled.

The pho needs work. The broth is too sweet for my tastes, the brisket tough and leathery. Brisket needs to cook for a long time to cook tenderly, and that didn't happen with mine. Perhaps the kitchen still needs to work out the kinks. Until they get sorted out, I'd choose Pho Bac on Barranca Pkwy for pho in this part of Irvine.

I don't claim to be any kind of expert on Viet cuisine, but I've eaten enough to know a restaurant that caters to Viet clientele from one that doesn't. Someone who's intimidated by Little Saigon but wants Viet food can have a good meal here, love the cuisine, and explore further. That was how it worked for me when I had my first Thai meal in a suburban, gringo-ized restaurant. And perhaps that's the customer that Nam Viet seeks. Try it for yourself and decide.

Nam Viet
15455 Jeffrey Rd


Anonymous Anonymous said...

My parents went to their grand opening and had such HORRIBLE service! But one of our friends is going to be the new owner of that place and is gonna reduce the prices. I hope it gets better!

3/31/2005 08:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm Vietnamese and that place is pretty bad. I went there because I wanted to support their business but it was just plain bad! Do not go there if you are looking for good Vietnamese food! YUCK!

5/25/2005 04:26:00 PM  

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