Atmosphere: An intimate spot done in with small gardens of greenery. Hospitable to families.
Price Range: Most meat, fish and poultry dishes in the $4.75 range, although connoisseur specials - large mixed plates - are $6.50. Children's portions will be prepared for half price.
Hours: Monday through Friday for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., dinner 5 to 10 p.m.; Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Dancing and live music from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
Credit Cards: Visa, Master Charge and Carte Blanche.
Reservations: A good idea, especially on weekends.
Special Facilities: On-street parking available; boosters and a high chair; accessible to patrons in wheelchairs.
Vietnam Bistro is the new restraurant opened by the folks who used to run Viet Huong, a pretty but cramped cafe in Georgetown. The move to Arlington, into an odd, art deco building on Wilson Boulevard, has given the cafe a chance to unfold from its previous tiny cocoon into a spectacular appointed, full-fledged restaurant.
In its new surroundings, Vietnam Bistro has laid out a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. Small gardens of greenery separate the tables into intimate clusters. The linens are lemon or melon; the chairs, white or natural wood. On one wall, pieces of bamboo have been fashioned into a farmhouse. In the rear is a large mural of water fowl done in rich greens and browns. Against the third wall is a wooden canopied banstand, dominated by a white grand piano, for weekend dancing.
The menu has been expanded as well as the surroundings. There are five pages of offerings from the delectable prelude of imperial rolls to the fine conclusion of honeyed banana fritters.
To fill in the middle of the dinner between appetizer and desert, there are a variety of entrees categorized on the menu according to their place of origin: for example, grilled meat balls from the farm, baked tumeric fish filet from the ocean and river, lemon grass barbecued beef from the plains, Golden Coins (a marinated pork dish) from the woodlands and fried rice sticks from the granary.
For those who can't make up their minds, there's a special section "for the connoisseur" - combination plates that allow a sampling of three or four dishes.
On the muggy afternoon we dragged into Vietnam Bistro, my family fell into the category of definitely indecisive. We were able to agree only that the most important order of business was something cold to drink: refreshing iced jasmine tea for my husband and son and an iced coffee for me. (Unfortunately, the coffee and ice came in separate glasses. I was required to decide whether to pour the ice into a full glass of coffee, or pour the coffee into a full glass of ice. I chose the latter with a soggy ashtray as the final result).
Despite the cool drinks and warm service, a decision on what to eat was still hard. We finally settled on one of the connoisseur plates, chik pork four-in-one for $6.50 with golden chicken, caramel pork in coconut milk, golden coins and imperial rolls. For our 3-year-old, who loves ribs, we ordered the sweet and sour spareribs, $4.75. We also tried the Vietnam Bistro steak, $6.75, a dish of diced marinated tenderloin beef.
Although the imperial (or spring) rolls were included in our connoisseur plate, they are a family favorite, and we agreed to supplement those with another order for $1.75. The crisp morsels brought to the table disappeared quickly.
When the rest of the dished were brought we discovered that the portions at Vietnam Bistro had also expanded from those at the Georgetown cafe. The combination plate was heaped with grilled meat and chicken, marinated in various sauces and delightfully tender. The steak dish was equally large and well prepared. Th ribs, however, were tough and mostly bone, although the sauce was a light, interesting version of sweet and sour.
The disappointment of the ribs was more than compensated for by the honeyed banana fritters, chunks of banana in a rum and vanilla flavored batter deep-fried, then served with honey for $1.75. The caramel flan coconut, $1.25, was only passable.
The total bill was $25.22 without tip, a reasonable expenditure for a pleasant family excusion.
For a night out without the children, Vietnam Bistro also offers live music and dancing on Friday and Saturday nights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. The music includes both "American and Vietnamese hit songs," said the owner, Hoang Nam.