Tag Archives: Nam Viet

Goodbye to Nam Viet

Less than a week after I posted an ecstatic note about revisiting Nam Viet, an old favourite restaurant that had dropped off my radar, the management announced that they would be closing after 20 years.

Nam Viet was founded by Nguyen Van Thoi, whose life story could be the basis for an epic HBO miniseries. When he died in 2005, the Washington Post published this incredible obituary.

The walls at Nam Viet held pictures of Mr. Nguyen and many of the military and political leaders who were his friends and patrons, like Attorney General Janet Reno and Senator John McCain. There are also group pictures of some of the men who attended the annual dinner for American POWs that Mr. Nguyen held at his restaurant.

(Mr. Nguyen had spent two years in a “re-education” camp after the fall of Saigon, and later escaped Vietnam in a small fishing boat.)

Trying to make up for lost time—at least a little bit—I had lunch at Nam Viet twice during its final week on Connecticut Avenue.

Caramelized Pork

Caramelized Pork

The Caramelized Pork was one of the chef’s specialties. It was made with tender pieces of pork shoulder sautéed in Nam Viet’s homemade fish sauce reduction, with onions and fresh cracked black pepper,

Shrimp Toast

Shrimp Toast

In one of the many online postings about Nam Viet’s closing, a customer raved about the Shrimp Toast, so I decided to give it a try. It was so good that I had it as my starter for both lunches.

It’s made with deep-fried ground shrimp pâté, spread on a sesame baguette.

I mean, just look at it!

Curried Seafood

Curried Seafood

My final meal at the restaurant. Vietnamese Seafood Curry, made with carrots, snap peas, potatoes, ginger, lemongrass, and yellow coconut milk curry. The seafood was a medley of calamari, shrimp, and scallop.

There is a silver lining. Though the DC Nam Viet has closed, for now, at least, the original restaurant is still open in Clarendon, Virginia. It’s a considerably longer distance away, but it’s worth the trip.


Thip Khao — Lunch on 10 June 2017

I’d never tasted Laotian cooking before I went to Thip Khao last week.

The restaurant came with great credentials: It’s on The Washingtonian’s “100 Very Best Restaurants 2017” list, and The Michelin Guide, which started rating Washington restaurants just last year, included it on the “Bib Gourmand” list of recommended restaurants offering two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less. (The “Bib Gourmand” list is sort of Michelin’s version of a JV team—no stars yet, but keep an eye out, because some of them have the potential to go far.)

Siin/Muu Haeng

Siin Haeng

Most of the reviews of Thip Khao recommended starting with what the menu called “Siin/Muu Haeng — crispy sesame jerky, ginger, sriracha.” The “Siin/Muu” in the name indicated that the diner had the option of choosing either beef or pork. I chose beef.

I can’t come up with a better description of Siin Haeng than the one in the Washington Post’s review:  “…sun-dried beef teased with lemon grass and ginger should be what American beef jerky aspires to.”

Knap Paa

This is what my main, Knap Paa, looked like when it was served.

Just for a second, I hesitated. I get a tiny bit nervous whenever I see pod-like vegetation. I think it’s because I was traumatized as a child by watching Invasion of the Body Snatchers on TV late one night….

Whispering to myself, “They’re only banana leaves, They’re only banana leaves,” I eventually opened the packet. Inside was a small serving of monkfish grilled with rice, lemongrass, kaffir lime, ginger, and dill.

NB You don’t eat the banana leaves.

And this is the plated meal, including the sticky rice that arrived in a little basket, called a “thip khao”, which is where the restaurant got its name.

So, how was it?

Okay, but I wasn’t overwhelmed. Given the choice of another meal at Thip Khao or a return to Nam Viet, I’d take Nam Viet in a second. The Knap Paa was bland, and I could barely taste the monkfish.

Perhaps part of my dissatisfaction is a result of my decision to order from the regular menu, instead of opting for a second, much hotter menu that Thip Khao calls “The Jungle”.

Maybe next time.

Nam Viet — Lunch on 6 June 2017

There was a long period when I probably averaged about five meals in Vietnamese restaurants for every hamburger I ate. (This was before hamburgers went upscale.)

Nam Viet, in Cleveland Park, was one of my default choices when I wanted an excellent and not-too-expensive meal, but it’s been at least two years since I last visited.

My loss.

I was in the neighbourhood yesterday, dropping off equipment at the Comcast service center—I’ve finally cut the cord on overpriced cable! Nam Viet was right across the street, and it was lunchtime.

Fried Quail

Fried Quail

I started with the fried quail appetizer, and, oh, was it good. I’d never order this unless I was dining alone, because eating quail is even messier than eating lobster. Quail is small and bony—the smaller bones are actually edible—and, really, it’s finger food. Nam Viet serves it with a glazed sweet house fish sauce and caramelized onions, on a bed of lettuce.

Caramelized Chicken

Caramelized Chicken

My main, from the “Chef Specialties” menu, was a huge serving of Caramelized Chicken with fresh ginger and onions. The sautéed, all-white-meat chicken came in a lidded bowl, with a side of steamed rice.

The sauce was nothing less than amazing—sweet and rich and syruppy. I wanted to taste every drop.

All in all, this was one of the best meals I’ve had in months. I’m thinking of making lunch at Nam Viet a once-a-week appointment for June and July.