When my Vegan friend Emily offered to take a few girls out to dinner with her tax refund, I silently hoped I would not have to eat tofu, but was psyched to spend a few hours with my friends. When Vietnam Kitchen (at 5339 Mitscher Ave) was chosen as our destination du jour, I was eager to try some new food and consented to try a vegetarian option on the (quite extensive) menu--mock duck. To my surprise it, along with the rest of our meal, was AMAZING.
We started the meal off with appetizers. Chicken came skewered with thick peanut sauce, and the vegetarian spring rolls were refreshing, wrapped in cold white rice paper. The dumplings were folded like little tucked pillows of meat in a salty bed. The restaurant was really busy on a weeknight, but the staff was pleasant and obliging, and the food came out incredibly fast. The mock duck was tender and textured a great deal like an actual piece of duck, if a little softer. The wrinkled vivid green beans in the dish added the right amount of crunch as backdrop to the spongy mock duck. It was tasty, and it didn’t leave me with that chunky feeling real meat sometimes leaves in my belly.
Oddly enough, my favorite items on the menu at Vietnam Kitchen were the beverages. The coconut milk was opalescent in a tall glass, woven through with pale ribbons of coconut, lightly sweet, like drinking colorless moonlight out of the night sky. We had coffee dripped through a miniature French press into a waiting pool of thick syrupy condensed milk, then poured over a glass of ice. There is an avocado milkshake on the menu I am DYING to try. We also had a black eyed pea rice pudding for dessert that was unexpectedly brilliant; not too saccharine, just right.
Vietnam Kitchen was exactly what the doctor ordered for a rainy early spring day: unique, affordable and charming. Don’t let the somewhat lackluster setting fool you, this place will knock your socks off.
Photos by Elizabeth Orrick