If the name sounds familiar, you're not imagining it. Little Viet Garden was a highly regarded restaurant in Clarendon in the 1990s, back when the Virginia suburb was a destination for Vietnamese cooking, not a cradle of condominiums and big-box retail shops.
Nearly a quarter century after it debuted in Clarendon, Little Viet Garden will resurface in the Eden Center, the current epicenter of Vietnamese cooking in the metro area. Co-owners and spouses Michael Phan and Anh Hong decided to resurrect the name when they expanded their exquisite banh mi shop, Banh Ta Deli, into a full-service Vietnamese restaurant. Little Viet Garden, version 2.0, launches today.
The owners are calling it a soft-opening because it's been awhile since they've run a sit-down restaurant. They need to build their chops back up.
“It will take a little while to get back on track,” Phan said. “We're working on it.”
Phan and Hong's last restaurant was Green Papaya, a refined Vietnamese retreat in Bethesda. It closed in 2012. Before that, the couple (and other family members) owned and operated Little Viet Garden. It was a favorite of Phyllis C. Richman, former restaurant critic for The Washington Post.
“The Washington area has wonderful Vietnamese restaurants, and Clarendon is the heart of this bounty,” Richman wrote in a 1992 review. “You wouldn't think there'd be a need for one more pretty good one. But we have none other like Little Viet Garden.”
Phan and Hong sold their share of Little Viet Garden in 2000 to a family member and, in short order, opened Green Papaya in Bethesda, where the owners could charge upward of $24 for an entree. (Little Viet Garden lasted another eight years before closing.) Such prices won't fly at the Eden Center, Phan said. They'll keep the entrees in the $15-to-$18 range.
Little Viet Garden's menu will feature more than 100 dishes prepared by Phan and Hong. Their menu will include standard Vietnamese fare — vermicelli dishes, pho, rolls, rice plates — but it will also feature such entrees as prawns in a salted butter-and-garlic sauce, Mekong shrimp in a creamy curry sauce and whole crispy flounder with a spicy ginger sauce.
Phan said that, within the first six months of business, he and his wife will pare down the sprawling menu into something more manageable. But first they need to find out what their customers want; diners will be the ultimate arbiters on what dishes make the cut.
One thing will never go away, however: the banh mi sandwiches that Hong builds with such craftsmanship. One section of Little Viet Garden, dubbed Banh Ta Corner, will be reserved for Hong's bread-based artistry.
“She won't give that up,” Phan said. “She said, 'I got to have some sandwiches in there.'”
Little Viet Garden opens today at 6783 Wilson Blvd., Falls Church. 703-532-1069.