Atmosphere: Intimate, dimly lit with lovely hanging plants.
Reservations: Not needed.
Price Range: From $1.75 for a bowl of soup to $12.95 for Viet Chateau bouillabaisse.
Credit Cards: Visa, Master Charge, Diner's Club.
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, Noon to 3 p.m., 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Dim sum brunch on Sunday.
Special Facilities: No boosters or high chairs. Several steps down make access difficult for patrons in wheelchairs.
Enticed by a name that sounded grander than any of the other Vietnamese restaurants we had frequented, we visited the Viet Chateau on Connecticut Avenue. The decor was indeed relatively grand, but in a pleasant, restful way, with hanging plants and low lights setting the ambiance.
Family-style dining is not the image Viet Chateau has sought to project, and no high chairs were available. The waiters, nevertheless, quickly found some telephone books for our 2-year-old and we were all set.
We ordered one festival tray dinner, at $9.75. It included a sample of Vietnamese food -- crab soup, one Vietanamese spring roll, one pork skewer, a portion of chicken with vegetables, pork caramel, rice, flan and coffee or tea. The rest we ordered a la carte.
For appetizer we tried cha gio, crispy spring rolls filled with pork, crabmeat, vegetables and, in this case, mint (2 for $2.25.) They were especially crunchy and delicious but the sauce served with it, made with nuoc mam (fish sauce) garlic, sugar and chili peppers, was a bit watered down. Unfortunately the cha gio were not served with the traditional fresh mint and lettuce leaves.
The charcoal-broiled pork skewer with lemon grass, which came with the festival dinner, was also extremely tasty and we were off to a good start.
One of the soups -- pho bo -- was one of the best renderings of this dish we have eaten. A northern Vietnamese beef soup with a distinct taste of star anise, it is often eaten at breakfast in Vietnam. Our 2-year-old daughter loved this mild soup with its rice noodles.
The sup mang cua or asparagus soup with crabmeat, usually prepared in Vietnamese homes on the anniversary of a relative's death, was chicken stock with crabmeat, white asparagus and egg drops floating on top. It was rather bland.
Soup portions were generous, at $1.75 for a small bowl and $3 for a large one.
Because the restaurant specializes in cuisine minceur, or lower-calorie food, we decided to try some of the lighter French-influenced Vietnamese dishes.
The mushroom beef in a light wine sauce, $6.95, was quite good. The speciality of the house, Viet Chateau bouillabaisse, $12.95 for one, came with lobster tail, clams, scallops, crab claws and shrimp. It proved to be a particularly intriguing combination of the Oriental and French cuisine.
Although the fish in the stew was somewhat scarce and, alas, overcooked, the fish stock, with bean sprouts and dill, was light and delicious. It did need a little fish sauce, which was served on request.Fish sauce is to Vietnamese cooking what soy sauce is to Chinese.
The small portions of caramel pork coconut and almond chicken with fresh diced vegetables, which came with the festival tray, were light and tasty.
For dessert we tried the flan au rhum, $1.75, and the refreshingly delicious lotus seeds in longan supreme at $2.75. The jasmine or ginseng tea were extra, $1 and $1.20 a pot. Our bill for three adults and one child came to $49.15 including tip.
This light Vietnamese cooking left us pleasantly satisfied but not stuffed. We'll come again for the Sunday dim sum brunch or perhaps for lunch, when the prices are lower. Whatever the event, it will be a special family occasion.