Let’s just get this out of the way: Le Viet, 1019 S. 11th St., is one of the most exciting places in which we’ve had the pleasure of dining in recent memory.
Yeah, we said it. We dare you to prove us wrong.
From start to finish, Le Viet delivered dish after dish of colorful and flavorful Vietnamese cuisine that impressed the hell out of us. And none more so than the first dish we tried, the Goi Hai San Trái Thom ($13.95), a massive pineapple salad with carrots, sweet onion, roasted peanuts, shrimp and calamari. We could have eaten this refreshing and elegant dish all night. We loved it so much that we might direct some form of social violence toward anyone who doesn’t try it.
You have been warned.
There were other fine appetizers beyond the pineapple salad. The Cha Gio ($2.95) was an exceptional take on a deep-fried shrimp roll. Pop’s wings ($4.95) were also a delight — hotter, crispier and uniquely flavored above and beyond varieties of traditional buffalo wings.
Another selection that stood out was the Bánh Xèo ($7.95), a massive Vietnamese crepe stuffed with pork, green onion, sprouts and shrimp. This dish really sung with the accompanying fresh mint leaves and the tableside Sriracha sauce we used to spike it.
The Bò Lúc Lac ($14.95), a Vietnamese filet mignon and watercress salad, embodied perfection, with the expertly cooked and sauced beef resting on a healthy bed of crisp greens. The Tôm Xào Gung Hành ($14.95) was the hotness, literally, with jumbo shrimp slathered in a ginger sauce on a sizzling plate.
The Bún Mâm ($6.95), a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup, was recommended to us, but with a warning as some diners have found it “pungent” and have sent it back. Oh, we like a challenge. Any dish powerful enough to scare someone away makes us want to tie a bib on and dive.
Aside from the generously huge portion, we found nothing to be scared of, leading us to wonder what candy-assed Bennigan’s diner couldn’t step up to the plate and enjoy this dish. We expected to be slapped with a funk cloud like something out of a Pepé Le Pew cartoon, but what we got was a savory and aromatic soup loaded with noodles, pork, shrimp, calamari, fish and fresh veggies, all in a bowl the size of a child’s swimming pool. Needless to say, yum!
Dessert at Le Viet was every bit as exotic as the rest of the menu. The Cha Giò Trái Cây ($5.50), described as Vietnamese cannoli, was fried crispy on the outside and stuffed with a pleasantly chilled mixture of sweet cream cheese and fruit. The Kem Chuôi ($5.50), vanilla ice cream topped with fried bananas and coconut cream, was rich and decadent. Then there was the Trái Cây Tuoi ($7.95), which made a convincing argument for simplicity as it consisted of a sculpted cantaloupe topped with longan. That’s right, one of the best desserts in the house was cantaloupe topped with a minimal showing of exotic fruit.
So to recap: Make a beeline for Le Viet, be adventurous when ordering — and don’t let us find out that you didn’t order the pineapple salad.