Tiny But Not Timid: Nam Nam Cafe [Food & Dining]

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This article appears in the January 2012 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com.

Since April 2011, Nam Nam has crammed itself into the small cinderblock building that used to house Simply Thai, an almost-invisible appendage to a convenience store at the corner of Wallace and Wilmington avenues in St. Matthews. The tiny interior, pass-throughs to the kitchen dominating its back wall, contains several small tables within its minimally decorated walls. Nam Nam’s menu is similarly stripped down, lacking the multiple pages found in many of Louisville’s other Vietnamese restaurants while still managing to offer rolls, salads, entrées, desserts and even drinks such as bubble tea.
 
“My menu is much smaller than most of Louisville’s Vietnamese restaurants,” 31-year old chef/owner Truong told me during a phone conversation. “I want it small so that everything can be good. Everything.” As a young man, Truong, a self-described “foodie,” was “always in the kitchen” in his parents’ restaurants (one being Middletown’s China Express), then “just kept learning and watching” as he began working for his parents’ friend, Peng Looi, at August Moon several years ago. Early in 2011, he persuaded his parents, who emigrated from Vietnam in the ’70s, to provide backing for his own Vietnamese restaurant, something he believed could stand apart from the crowd. “No offense to anyone, but I thought that other than Basa, the Vietnamese places in town were kind of passé,” Truong said. “I wanted to do something more modern. Not fusion or anything — just good, fresh Vietnamese that’s not messed with too much.”
 
This focus on freshness reinvigorated my interest in several familiar dishes, particularly Truong’s Vietnamese crepe ($9). Instead of the too-thick, agglutinative Asian frittata I had expected, Nam Nam’s scallion-flecked, rice-flour-and-coconut-milk crepe was whisper thin, brown and crunchy, filled with crisp-tender bean sprouts, mild onions, plus shrimp and pork laced with just the right touch of earthy fish sauce. “Traditionally, you can cook the vegetables in the crepe, but I prefer to cook (the crepe) separately,” Truong said. “That way the crepe gets crispy.”
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