Open Monday through Friday for lunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; open every day for dinner, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Major credit cards accepted. On-street parking. Restaurant is accessible to wheelchairs. All four corners on Norfolk Avenue have ramps at the corner curbs.
We've introduced our children to the wonders of Asian cuisines, and it didn't seen right not to see what Southeast Asain food was all about. About five months ago Vietnam of Bethesda opened a small restaurant a few miles from our home, and it looked like a place we would be comfortable going to ona Saturday night with our children and their grandmother.
THe restaurant in a converted storefront shop with large floor-to-ceiling windows, has a somewhat austere appearance from the outside. Inside, it is much more elegant. Dark brown tablecloths and tan napkins are on the tables. The floor is a dark brown tweed, and the ceiling is painted a rich chocolate brown. A few lighting globes with painted Vietnamese scenes hang from the ceiling and add light and color.
We ordered a large carafe of wine for the three adults while we studied the menu. Our waiter suggested Vietnamese fruit punch for the children, the first of severl good suggestions. The punch was fruity, tangy and nicely thirst-quenching on a warm, muggy night.
At first glance many of the dishes on the menu seemed to be variations on Chinese food. The crispy rolls sounded like egg rolls and the barbecued pork like the dish of the same name on a Chinese menu. Several of the main courses were beef, pork, chicken or shrimp with broccoli and other vegetables. Our waiter told us Vietnamese cooking was quite different. We ended up ordering a few familiar sounding "Chinese" dishes, a few of our waiter's suggestions plus one or two dishes that the children thought would do them no harm. Everything was delicious, and the food beautifully cut and prepared.
My mother and I started with pho soup with the menu describes as a beef broth with noodles. The soup, $1.50 a cup or $2.50 a bowl, is served in a deep crock. Floating in the broth were the noodles, slices of raw union and chunks of meat. I thought it was excellent until I tasted my husband's crab meat and asparagus soup which was even better. His soup, at $1 a serving, also came in a deep crock to keep it hot.
We ordered crispy rolls barbecued pork appetizers for our children to share and for us to taste.
Chunks of pork were sweetened with a marinade and served on a skewer. An accompanying clear yellow sauce was on the sour side. The waiter explained that the sauce was a fish and vinegar mix. The crispy rolls at $2.50 were not like egg rolls in that the filling was more finely ground and meatier. Everyone got to taste a piece, and we all liked it.
For the main course the children were sharing sweet and sour shrimp ($4.25). Their dish was not as heavily sweet as Chinese versions we've tasted and was filled with individual, deep fried shrimp, chunks of pineapple, carrots, mushrooms and green pepper. My mother tried the whole flounder, ($4.75), which was deep fried and served in slightly sweet sauce. Her plate was beautifully decorated with sliced carrots. My husband ordered the barbecued pork ($3.95) which, though well prepared, was a mistake since it was the same as the appetizer and thus uninteresting.
I tried one of the waiter's recommendations: cinnamon beef with orange slices, $4.95. The meat had been rolled and then sliced so that it graced the plate in lovely coils. The serving plate was fringed with perfectly cut and trimmed orange slices. The dish was so pretty to look at that I hated to cut into it.Although the aroma was strong, the dish had a mild and pleasant taste. Everyone tried some, including the children, and we all agreed it was the best dish of the day.
Everyone's dinner came with a bowl of rice, and although our children were sharing a dish, extra rice at no additional cost or request was served. We appreciated the courtesy.
While we finished our entrees the children got up to check out the French pastries on a table in the center of the restaurant. They looked tempting, but we couldn't eat another bite of anything. The food had been very good - just different enough to make us feel we'd gone someplace new.
Four dishes for five people had been more than enough. Out tab for dinner, which included a large carafe of wine for $2.85, the two fruit punches, appetizers and main courses, came to $3.35. We felt we could have easily eaten for less. The cinnamon beef and whole flounder were among the most expensive items on the menu. Entrees like beef with citronella or chicken with lemon peel were $3.95 or less. A Vietnamese crepe, filled with shrimp, pork, mushrooms, bean sprouts and a special sauce, was only $2.50.