Kim’s Vietnamese Gourmet Cuisine
The sweet, the savory and the lunch du jour
Vinegar and I have a long, and occasionally sordid, history. I can remember my first vinaigrette dressing on a salad, and the very first time I ever sprinkled red wine on sautéed spinach—I was hooked for life. Then there was the time that cider vinegar was used as a weapon pointed straight at my 10-year-old potty mouth. My fifth grade teacher, Sister Mary Ruler-Smack (not her real name—I don’t want to get smacked again), was affronting my dignity yet again by requiring me to participate in group sing-a-long, at which point I decided to inform her that she “looked like my butt.” I was marched by my ear to the cafeteria area, where I was shoved into a folding chair to await my fate—it was either hold a bar of soap in my mouth for one minute, or drink a cup of cider vinegar. My choice seemed easy, but I was in for a nasty surprise.
So imagine my joy at receiving a small bottle of “red vinegar” for my appetizer soup at the most ambitious new Vietnamese restaurant in town, Kim’s Vietnamese Gourmet Cuisine. This soup was severely tasty, but whodathunk to place tiny droplets of savory, fruity vinegar in a cup of white asparagus and crab soup to bring out the flavor of the crab? One of the three Kims, that’s who. The triumvirate of Mom and two daughters, proprietors of the new place, are all Kims, all hard working and all talented with their combination of traditional Vietnamese food and French delicacies.
The lunch menu was a continental thrill with prosciutto and melon, an assiette de charcuterie plate loaded with assorted sliced meats and breads with European butter, quiche Lorraine and crêpes (ham and cheese or shrimp and broccoli). The dinner and weekend menus are a bit less French, but there are plenty of Vietnamese classics with gourmet flair like bun cha Hanoi, grilled slices of marinated pork ball served on a tray with rice noodles, fresh herbs, lettuce, cucumbers and marinated carrots. Or there’s the Vietnamese-style meatballs in homemade tomato sauce, seasoned with black peppercorns and served with bread.
I made several excellent dinnertime choices with the white asparagus and crab soup ($1.95 cup, $4.95 bowl), the spicy lemon grass beef noodles ($6.25) and the coconut-braised chicken ($7.25). The soup was aesthetically pleasing with a translucent, wispy look about it, and the vinegar droplets brought out the crab taste and added a plumish flavor. I was not familiar with this Vietnamese red vinegar, but Kim (the oldest daughter) told me to look it up at the Talin Market the next time I was there.
My order of lemon grass beef noodles looked bright and appetizing. The beef was razor-thin and encrusted with herbs and tons of lemon grass, as it should be. After the addition of the bowl of vinegary chili sauce, these noodles were perfect, and I had trouble saving room for the chicken. This chicken was actually a small step away from being a really good coq au vin; the dark leg and thigh meat was braised in coconut juice until it fell off the bone, and it was served with white rice, cold sliced veggies, a simple green salad and a large side of the leftover au jus.
And, yes, there is pho. And vermicelli rice noodles and spring rolls, the hallmarks of any Vietnamese restaurant. On the French side, there is a pastry case at the counter to display baked custard, fruit and cream tarts, and little meat pastries with pork and onions.
“People come in expecting mostly Vietnamese,” said oldest daughter Kim.
Their logo depicts the Eiffel tower with a Vietnamese girl in traditional dress next to it, a fair representation of the two styles in one venue.
My one gripe about the place is some weirdness with the décor. The cream and red walls are separated by colorful trim featuring fat, dancing French chefs, but the sedate Asian plants and wall plaques at intervals throughout the dining room don’t really meld in that setting.
Of course, I picked drinking a mug of vinegar to making out with the soap bar, and so I was handed my punishment while three or four nuns and one perturbed priest watched me like cops. I really did pretend to hate the vinegar. I feigned disgust and faked squishy faces while on the inside I was giggling for getting off so easy. I got the stuff down so fast that my police tribunal decided to give me the soap too for my impertinence.
The Alibi Recommends:
Steamed rose cakes with minced shrimp
Brochette and taboulé
Champagne grape tart
Kim’s Vietnamese Gourmet Cuisine, 8019 Menaul NE, Suite A, 293-4441. Hours: 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. every day. Price range: Inexpensive. No smoking, no booze, large parties, credit cards accepted, pastry case.