Viet Bistro

Some of the spiciest--and most interesting--cooking in the Eden Center.

From June 2006 Cheap Eats

This Eden Center restaurant might give every impression of being a lounge–TV blaring above the long bar, smokers lingering at the black-lacquered tables like members of cafe society–but it turns out some of the most uncompromising food to be found in this sprawling plaza of 30-plus restaurants.

The staff isn't as practiced in the art of reaching out to a Western audience as the team at the crossover hit Huong Que (Four Sisters), which means there's no one to guide you through the multipage menu. It also means the staff is inclined to doubt your claims of being able to withstand the really spicy stuff.

Here, hot means hot. A plate of plump rings of squid arrives in a lemongrass sauce that will have you summoning your server for refills of water. Dishes not marked spicy still emit a gentle, insistent heat. Sweet, meaty frog's legs are coated in a yellow curry that sends waves of heat through your mouth. Baby clams are tossed in a hash full of rendered bits of bacon and a generous handful of diced chilies that cut the oiliness of the dish but also ignite it. Scoop it up with one of the puffy rice cakes studded with black-sesame seeds.

Just as the food hasn't been recalibrated to satisfy more timid palates, neither is it too sweet, the other common snare for many Asian restaurants. Caramel fish comes not with the cloying glaze one often encounters but with a light, amber-colored sauce shot through with pepper and vinegar, a fitting foil for its filets of catfish.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.