While I’ve written before about Pho – and God knows I enjoy a good Banh Mi – I am not sure that I have given Vietnamese in these here parts enough love. It’s not that I dislike it – but it does not inspire the Pavlovian slobber when it pops in my mind’s eye. Of course if it DID whet my whistle so, my beloved Northern Virginia is a great place to be indeed – the Eden Center area in East Falls Church is quite simply a glorious super concentrated haven of Vietnamese fare. You got your Pho, your vermicelli, your Banh Mi. (Song Que in particular is magnificent for the Banh Mi/Bubble Tea daily double) But for sit down restaurants – our experience has been lacking. Viet Royale is one fancy cloth napkin restaurant, but a mediocre one. Viet Bistro is tasty, but the service is bad – and I am being generous. Present elsewhere in Falls Church is solid. So it was interesting when on a Tyler Cowen recommendation we visited this nearly empty restaurant in the back of the Eden Center area called Vy Bistro. I’ve been here twice and only seen a couple of other customers around – and that is a shame, because this is pretty easily the best Vietnamese place I’ve been to.
The atmosphere is not going to win any awards. While the place is clean – it’s not divey by any stretch – but it is fairly no frillsy. They also confuse you with an outside menu showing specials but the specials being folded into the full menu so they are hard to find. It doesn’t look like they are getting many customers – the location is a little hard to see immediately in the complex, and indeed when we walked in, the tables were not fully set. It is interesting to sit in a restaurant like this and actually get a killer meal, but it has happened – twice!
We started with the lotus root salad, which included pork and shrimp and came with shrimp toasts and a light vinegar-fish sauce dressing. This caught my heart immediately, as one common restaurant faux pas is the overcooking of shrimp. I don’t envy anybody cooking seafood – hell, I’m petrified of it – because so often the zone when the food is “ok” is so teeny tiny. It is not hard to go from “not done” to “cooked the crap out of” very quickly. Overcooked shrimp is a rubbery travashamockery. Here, the shrimp was lovely, still with some body and not chewy, rubbery or mealy in the least. The salad is delicate and on the shrimp toasts there is a great crunch. The chili paste that is at the table is a nice complement.
Both times I’ve gone, I’ve ended up choosing North Vietnamese style soups – once with duck. The duck soup of course was beautifully delicate broth. The meat was served on the side to be folded in. The duck fat hitting the hot broth and giving it’s ducky goodness ended up with a truly brilliant noodle soup. Most recently the choice was a crab noodle soup. This had fresh tomatoes, crab paste, escargot. I had never had escargot – but it ended up looking like mushrooms, but tasting like an interesting mushroom-calmari mix, an earthier seafood thingy. With the spicy chili sauce and the fish paste (which has a fishy briny taste which is both unpleasant at first glance and vaguely amazing flavorwise), and the veggie accoutrements (lime, mint, bean sprouts) – it is a really good bowl. The chili-ginger sauce they also provide for the soup is downright brilliant, waking the whole thing up.
While the crowds are sparse so far, the service is excellent – the front of the house manager frankly doesn’t have a ton of folks to supervise – but is very friendly and conversational. He also showed us which sauces made sense for each particular dish. Eat it the right way and the thing sings. I hope Vy Bistro stays in business – on merits of food there is no doubt.