3600 kirby dr #h @ richmond
this new trendy vietnamese joint is brought to us by the azuma folks. my, my have they been busy lately. soma only opened earlier this year and 6 months later they've brought us another chi chi pan-asian joint. we joked that it's too bad they didn't get philippe schmidt to run this place, as gadsby is over at soma turning out franco-japanese cuisine. if they did, i think the menu would have been much more exciting. i would describe the cuisine here as slightly updated classic vietnamese.
the chef was courted from NY to run this kitchen. she is a sweet, humble vietnamese woman who looks like she could be any of my vietnamese friends' mother. she left nam restaurant in tribeca to bring her culinary skills to the south. our pretty asian hostess was super polite and our waiter was attentive and willing to chat with us as the restaurant wasn't very busy at all.
the interior space feels very clean and modern. the walls look as if they were dyed in green tea and teak colored wood is used throughout to provide organic components. interesting textures decorate the wall.
the menu was printed on 2 sheets of legal size paper, stapled, and stamped "DRAFT" as soma did during their soft opening. it lists four variety of rolls: imperial (the little fried ones) and spring rolls with your choice of grilled tiger shrimp, tofu, or grilled filet mignon. the rolls run $6 to 8 on order.
three salads are also listed including a calamari salad, spicy filet mignon, and mixed house salad. the prices were $7, $8, and $6 respectively.
there are 3 types of soup: wonton, pho, and vietnamese hot & sour; and 2 noodle dishes: vermicelli w/ grilled pork and stirfried egg noodles with assorted meats. prices ranged from $6-10.
starters included classic vietnamese dishes with anglo-friendly names: crispy crepe (banh xeo), sugar cane shrimp, wild mushroom cannelloni (banh cuon), and shrimp ravioli (banh li) joined a few others. prices were $6 to $9.
entrees included bo luc lac, roasted cornish hen, claypot salmon, seafood curry, and a few stirfries. nothing was a terrible stretch from anything you'd find from our vietnamese standbys like mai's. small changes were made such as choosing salmon instead of catfish in their claypot, but nothing is a far stretch into the innovative or creative realm. the cheapest entree was the stirfried lemongrass chicken at $12 and the most expensive was the crispy whole red snapper at today's market price of $33. our waiter assured us that the snapper was more than 2 lbs and it was sushi grade. i wasn't sure if i believed him or not. but i think it would have fed 2 people easily. our waiter and the chef kept steering us into ordering the bo luc lac or "shaken beef" when we asked what the house specialities were. i've had my share of beef this week (as some of you may know), so i was craving something lighter.
we started with 2 appetizers, the calamari salad and grilled pork ribs. the calamari salad was overdressed. the presence of pickled red onions already provided a healthy acidity to the dish. they need to tone down the amount of the slightly spicy tamarind dressing that is going on each small plate.
the grilled pork ribs were nicely crispy from the grill and tasted just like the grilled pork chop you get on a rice plate or vermicelli bowl.
we shared the steamed sea bass entree ($19). note, there is no lunch menu. when i asked our server if there were any plans to provide one, he said he didn't know. these prices are definitely steep for lunch, especially considering you can have a 3 course meal at da marco or feast for $22.
the sea bass was delicious and on the right side of the border of almost being overcooked. it was swimming in a delicate but flavorful sauce with shitake mushrooms, cellophane noodles, and a little bok choy. fresh cilantro was generously scattered on top. this is a great summer dish.
the beginnings of an outdoor patio were apparent. the bar area in the back of the restaurant is small. they aren't trying to create another soma bar crowd which is good. the place will still attract a hip, be-seen crowd that probably doesn't know that a bowl of pho is usually only $4-5.
see updated 7/5/08 review