Atmosphere: Low-Key, comfortable, Oriental ambience. Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday through Saturday. Price range: $3.50 to $7.50 Reservations: Not necessary, but call ahead for a large group. Credit cards: MasterCard and Visa. Special facilities: Parking in rear of restaurant; accessible to the handicapped; high chairs available; carryout.
Like other immigrant groups before them, the Vietnamese have brought to the United States a distinctive cuisine that Americans are learning to love.
Vietnamese dishes, like other Oriental cooking, relies heavily on top quality meats and seafood, crisp-textured vegetables that are often stir-fried and seasonings that can be subtle or scintillating. Yet there is no mistaking these dishes for something Chinese or Japanese or thai; they are unique and have a delicious character all their own.
At La Pagode in Falls Church, traditional Vietnamese cooking is authentically rendered, the service hospitable and the prices reasonable. It is well worth a visit.
To begin, we ordered cho gio, or imperial rolls, the Vietnamese version of spring rolls. A spicy pork filling is rolled in a thin pancake wrapper and fried greaselessly crisp, then served with nuc man, the traditional Vietnamese fish sauce which has a salty piquance to it, but is lighter than soy sauce. My husband sampled asparagus soup, a flavorful concoction similar to egg drop, and good enough that we passed it around the table twice before we let him have it back.
Noodle dishes at La Pagode are reputed to be among their best, and the platters of vermicelli and rice noodles going past our table looked delicious. We decided to try something that sounded a little different, and ordered crisp, stir-fried egg noodles with shrimp and beef, $5.95. Our waitress brought us a platter of crisp, sliced vegetables with large juicy shrimp and pieces of beef in a light, blandly seasoned sauce, not unlike a chow mein. It was served like chow mein, on a bed of crisp noodles, and was perfectly complemented by more of the fish sauce that the waitress brought with our entrees.
The same bland flavor characterized the Vietnamese crepe we ordered for $4.75. A house specialty, it was a thin, crisp, frying-pan siezed crepe that had been folded over a lightly seasoned filling of bean sprouts and sliced beef.
The other two dishes we ordered had sauces with character of their own. Carmel pork in coconut milk, $6.75, is a dish we thought the girls would like, since the meat is cooked in a rich and velvety sauce flavored not unlike a Sugar Daddy.
Nevertheless, the girls preferred lemon grass marinated chicken, $6.50, a lovely dish of succulent white meat in a piguant sauce that was full of flavor but not hot.
For dessert, La Pagode offers a creme carmel with coconut, and banana fritters, neither of which is listed on the menu. In spite of the temptation they offered, we thought we'd save dessert for the next time we go to La Pagode. Our bill for five, tax and tip included, was $44.55.