Vietnamese food hasn’t made its way into the collective consciousness of America in the same way that Chinese and even Japanese cuisines have, but it is slowly making inroads. Popular dishes like bánh mi and pho can be found on the menus of many Asian fusion restaurants.
But there’s more to Vietnamese food than the mainstay items we may be most familiar with, as a quick glance at the menu of Chez Thuy in Boulder will tell you. With more than 100 items, diners are more often at a loss for what to choose than for something new to try. The menu is mainly Vietnamese but combines influences of French, Chinese, Thai and Indonesian cuisines.
I was first introduced to Vietnamese food by a coworker in California: an ex-pat who was willing to show me the ropes and introduce me to the foods I was ordering. So I felt comfortable sitting down in the familiar Asian-restaurant-themed ambience of Chez Thuy with a friend for dinner. We started with the chef’s special plate appetizer. The hearty platter includes sugarcane shrimp, consisting of seasoned, ground shrimp formed into a patty and grilled over a piece of sugarcane; a stuffed chicken wing, which was unlike anything I’d ever seen, with ground pork, peanuts, lemongrass and other spices stuffed in a de-boned chicken wing; beef and chicken skewers; and a whole, fried soft-shell crab. The platter was served with a traditional selection of raw vegetables and herbs as condiments, including lettuce, bean sprouts and cilantro. These vegetables are often used to round out the five flavors chefs strive for in Vietnamese cuisine: spicy, sour, bitter, salty and sweet. The soft-shell crab was the star of the plate—easily living up to its reputation as a house specialty—with thick, flavorful batter and moist fresh crab meat within. Surprisingly, the beef and chicken skewers were also highlights, with perfectly seasoned chicken and beef that practically melted in the mouth.
My companion ordered the seafood special for her dinner, a dazzling array of shrimp, scallops, mussels and calamari sautéed with fresh vegetables, lemongrass, coconut milk and spices. She groaned with pleasure as she sunk into the dish, claiming she’d like to bathe in the sauce. I ordered the noodle basket with pork, and it arrived a tribute to another set of five elements important to Vietnamese cuisine: the five senses. Attractively presented in a golden basket of fried noodles, the sweet and spicy pork and vegetable stir fry rested atop a bed of steamed rice noodles. Both meals offered huge portions, more than enough to take home and enjoy again.
Our service was brisk and efficient, if perhaps bordering on brusque. Before visiting Chez Thuy, I had heard conflicting reports and, indeed, cautionary stories about service, but we experienced no inattentiveness. I wonder if, perhaps, the difficulties lie in cultural differences and perceptions more than in service that is truly lacking. Do not expect to be doted on or coddled here. But do expect a
whirlwind of an authentic Vietnamese culinary experience.
2655 28th St., Boulder
Bottom line: Excellent, authentic Vietnamese cuisine.