Indochine Vietnamese Bistro
230 S. 1300 East, Salt Lake City ; 801-582-0896
Not just a noodle house or chained to Chinese items, this Vietnamese eatery offers stir-fries, curries and French-inspired entrees.
Hours: M-S, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Su, noon-9 p.m.
Liquor: Full Service
Corkage: $ 10
Recommended Dishes: Shredded pork and eggplant stir-fry, Vietnamese crepes, curry beef stew, hot-and-sour soup with lime leaf.
January 9, 2008
Bistro introduces Salt Lake diners to the allure of Vietnamese food
By Vanessa Chang
We're the sort of town that knows Thai like the back of our hand. Red, yellow or green, we're fluent in coconut-spiked curries and the noodly mess of pad Thai. But what of Vietnamese cuisine? Would a Salt Lake diner know what to do with a sizzling crepe ($10.99) stuffed with pork, shrimp, onions and bean sprouts folded in all its rice-starchy glory?
If they're smart, they'll eat it -- portioned out and wrapped in a lettuce leaf and drizzled with sweet sauce or just placing all the contents and fresh fixings into a bowl. Savory with contrasting textures and heat and a bit of sweetness and spice from the translucent sauce, it's a good introduction to the allure of Vietnamese food.
The tactile crepe is just one item from a huge menu at Indochine Vietnamese Bistro. Since August 2007, owners Diem Nguyen and Tuan Bu have given Salt Lake City another take on Vietnamese cuisine. Not just a noodle house or chained to Chinese items, it incorporates everything with a decidedly Vietnamese flair. Meaning that stir-fries are fresher and lighter, curries are more subtle than their fiery Thai cousins, and there's a gamut of noodle soups and French-inspired entrees.
What used to be the home of Gepetto's and The Flying Scotsman is now a toned-down, sleek space. Vietnamese pop ballads are piped in during dinner and there's usually something sizzling at a nearby table.
It's just the sort of place where you can take friends with a range of tastes, confident that even the picky one will dig the shredded pork with eggplant stir-fry ($9.99) as much as you will. And maybe you can even coax them to slurp up some of the pho ($7.99-$8.99) in a rich, cinnamon-spiked made-from-scratch broth.
Pho, beef broth with a tangle of rice noodles, is a quintessential comfort dish. Bu, who runs the kitchen, comes from a noodle shop dynasty of sorts. So, it's safe to say he knows what he's doing. When we sampled Indochine's pho during one visit, it was balanced, light and completely invigorating. On another visit, it was lackluster and insipid. I've come across some complaints as well that the serving portion is too small, but I found it to be just right. In the future though, folks will have a chance to opt for a regular or large size.
What's a bit more warranted in criticism is the coconut curry mussels ($7.99). The shellfish were only so-so in quality and the broth, though aromatic, was salty. Another disappointing dish was the catfish in a claypot ($11.99). It reads beautifully but when it arrived, the fish was overcooked and a little pungent for some of my companions.
Nguyen handles the front of the house and service. She treats regulars like family and is enthusiastic about offering the daily specials that come out of her husband's kitchen. Though the staff is friendly, service is a bit haphazard. It depends on how busy the restaurant is and how many servers there are.
But certain flavors do make up for it. A hot-and-sour soup with lime leaf ($9.99-$11.99) is wonderfully aromatic, tangy and light. Get it with shrimp and you can easily share it among three or four people. Beef in a hearty curry stew ($9.99) and a "bistro" steak sandwich ($5.99 lunch only) don't immediately come to mind when you think of Southeast Asian food, but it's done well here. Intriguingly, the grilled beef short ribs broken rice platter (broken grains slightly smaller than the actual size of short grain rice) tastes familiarly of Korean barbecue. Not surprisingly, then, according to Nguyen the dish is called "Korean barbecue" in Vietnam.
But no matter the lineage, the Vietnamese flair is what brings people back to this restaurant. Still a newcomer to the restaurant scene, expect some changes to the menu, including more vegetarian options as well as some traditional Vietnamese desserts with red bean and pandan leaf. It's worth a lesson. After a few visits, you too can be fluent in the language of Indochine.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.