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Viet Royale (Cho Lon), Eden Center - Closed


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shaggy said:
There's plenty of reasons why Patrick O'Connell goes there [Four Sisters] every Tuesday for dinner (or at least, he used to).

All due respect to Chef O., none of my sporadic visits to 4-S has ever turned up anything of particular note, though it is a perfectly good restaurant. I prefer Viet Royale, literally right next door (and newly listed on the Washingtonian 100 Very Best list), and there's a pho specialty place (or two) that has a strong reputation among local soup aficionados.

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I'm on record as saying that Four Sisters is this generation's Queen Bee - a restaurant that has been overrated by restaurant critics for a good ten years because of it's warm and welcoming service.

I have always preferred Viet Royale over Four Sisters. That having been said, my two most recent visits there have shown a restaurant in decline, most recently last week, where two of three dishes ordered could have been served in any ordinary Chinese (yes, I said Chinese) restaurant. Tom Rang Muoi (Prawns served in shell seasoned with salt and pepper, $13.95) were a salty, dried-out joke, and a special of Sauteed "Water Greens" (Chinese watercress sauteed in garlic) were oily and forgettble. The one great dish of the night was the comfort-food standard, Ca Kho To (Caramel Fish in Clay Pot, $12.95), which actually was served in a metal container, but combined well-prepared filets of white fish with a sweet and peppery sauce which in no way came across as cloying. My experience is that this dish is always much better here than it is next door. Nevertheless, at this point I fear that Viet Royale is currently winning favor becuase it falls into the "anything but Four Sisters" category.

Likewise, my last two meals at Minh's have been extraordinarily disappointing, and I fear that Minh's, too, may not be what it was just a few years ago.

Where does that leave me in terms of recommending a great Vietnamese restaurant to people? I'm open for suggestions, because right now I have none.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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It became a favorite in our family for the because the kids -- then not at an adventurous age -- became addicted to the "Fondue", where thin slices of beef are dipped in spiced vinegar and then wrapped with various herbs and sprouts in rice paper. I think kids will eat anything they can play with first, and it freed us up to play with the rest of the menu.

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I'm a bit unsure when middle school graduation became such a big deal, but it has and so Miss got to choose the restaurant and nine of us ended up at Viet Royale for dinner Saturday and, I am pleased to say, that we did not have a Rockwellian experience. Excellent razor clams and wonerful "beef underdone with lime" were standouts. Caramel pork is a bit of a no-brainer, but well worth wolfing down.

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We randomly chose Viet Royale this weekend, and after sitting down realized I'd had a five-course beef menu here before. We started with vegetarian summer rolls (gui cuon), which basically tasted of Thai basil and our dipping sauce.

Rare beef with lime (bo tai chanh) with Thai basil, onions, and jalapenos. On my first visit several years ago, this was an awesome dish, smaller in size, but was far more piquant in its lime and basil mix - though maybe at the time it was actually coriander (so long ago I forgot). This time it came with a preponderance of peanuts and crispy onion, crushed so finely it made the meat seem really weird. I also had to squeeze the limes on myself, and it wasn't as good. (The one at Huong Viet is also much better.)

One dish we did really like was the banh xeo - rice crepe with pork and shrimp. This dish is improved from years ago with a bit more savor to the crepe, and even better when placed in a bowl and covered with nuoc cham, basil leaves, and various veggies. It was crisp, meaty, with crispy veg and a nice blend of flavors.

But this place is basically a Chinese restaurant - as Don sort of pointed out - Cho Lon is a region of Vietnam that is heavily Chinese. So it depends on who's back there in the kitchen as to whether it's any good.

BTW, they also take credit cards now, which is different from most of the other joints in the Center.

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Barbara and I had a good dinner here last night. It had been probably 10 year since we had last been there, and at least five years since we went anywhere in Eden Center. We’ve been distracted by life, and lots of other kinds of food. We didn't go too far from the easier, more accessible, Vietnamese standards.

One appetizer didn’t work well for us. The Fresh Shredded Pork Roll with Fish Sauce looked pretty, with rice paper covering a lettuce leaf and shredded pork, all rolled up inside to look like your typical fresh garden rolls, but the pork was dry and mealy. They were out of the lotus root salads, so we also got the Beef marinated in lime as an appetizer, which was much better. The beef seemed to have been lightly cooked before marinating, tossed with white onions and basil, and topped with crushed peanuts, fried shallots, and a few slices of jalapeno pepper. This was a very balanced and fresh dish, and easily enough for 4 people for an appetizer. I brought half of it home.

Entrees were the shaky beef and the caramel fish in clay pot. The fish was cod, I think, and was tasty although it still had the skin on and the blood line in it which had a very strong taste if you didn’t scrape it off. The caramel sauce was excellent and the whole dish was topped with a generous shake of black pepper, which added a counterpoint to the sweetness.

The shaky beef was my favorite. This is cubes of tender beef stir-fried until rare or medium rare with onions, peppers, and tomatoes, and served on a bed of watercress. The watercress was one of the best parts of this dish. So often lately I have had watercress that didn’t taste like much of anything, was more of a texture component without flavor. This was the watercress I remember liking so well, a peppery, bright green vegetable, and it also assuaged a lot of guilt for eating so much beef :)

There was a large, slightly raucous, group of Vietnamese people enjoying hot pots at another table. I think we'll try that next time for variety.

They have a website with a PDF of the full menu.

Our mid-year food resolution is to come back to Eden Center, here and other places, and eat a lot more Vietnamese food.

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A few weeks ago I used a discount certificate and had a decent lunch. Today I went and tried a lunch special of chinese broccoli and tofu, and an order of cellophane noodles with crab meat (listed as an appetizer). Neither dish had any flavor - other than the broccoli which tasted like blanched broccoli. There might've been some pasturized crab meat in addition to fake crab meat in the noodle dish but nothing was really appetizing, not even the crispy spring roll. The best part might've been the shrimp wontons in the soup that's a part of the lunch special. Rather than just shrimp paste/cake, there was a whole piece of shrimp in each wonton. The lunch special was really cheap though, $6.95 for a soup, spring roll, entree served with rice - too bad it tasted cheap too.

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"Four Seasons Pampers a Whole New Generation at the Eden Center" by Tim Carman on washingtonpost.com

Tim Carman is producing the most interesting restaurant writing in the DC area right now.

The paragraph beginning with, "The restaurant can fumble ..." is the weakest in the review - it feels forced, but that's more than compensated for by the absence of a star rating, which compels the reader to actually read.

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