Le Fat im­presses with clas­sic Viet­namese dishes

GA Voice - - Arts Reviews Lgbt Atlanta Entertainment - By CLIFF BO­S­TOCK Cliff Bo­s­tock, Ph.D., is a long­time At­lanta food critic and for­mer psy­chother­a­pist who now spe­cial­izes in life coach­ing for cre­ative peo­ple and those in life tran­si­tion. cliff­bo­stock@gmail.com

Not a week goes by that I don’t dine on Viet­namese cui­sine, my ab­so­lute fa­vorite in the world. So I was ex­cited, to say the least, when Guy Wong, owner of the renowned Miso Iza­kaya, an­nounced he was open­ing Le Fat (935 Ma­ri­etta St., 404-439-9850), a Viet­namese bistro, in West At­lanta.

It seemed a per­fect fit. Wong’s menu at Miso is an el­e­gant, cre­ative trib­ute to Ja­panese pub dishes, but he calls on all man­ner of Asian cuisines. This new restau­rant, one of sev­eral oth­ers Wong plans to open, of­fers mainly clas­sic Viet­namese dishes in an ex­plic­itly French con­text. That’s not as un­usual as it may sound. The French oc­cu­pied Viet­nam, which would later be sub­di­vided into sev­eral na­tions, for nearly 100 years. At that time, the French called the area In­do­chine, be­cause it was bor­dered by In­dia and China.

What is it that is so lov­able about Viet­namese food? I like the com­par­a­tively healthy mix of the raw and the cooked, the crunchy and the creamy, and the slightly sweet and bit­ter. It typ­i­cally fea­tures meats with rice or noodles and, of course, the fa­vorite dish of many peo­ple is pho, the in­tensely rich soup served in many Viet­namese-owned restau­rants along Bu­ford High­way.

And that raises a ques­tion: is the food at Le Fat any dif­fer­ent from Bu­ford High­way’s? Hon­estly, not so much. The big draw here for many peo­ple, de­spite the sig­nif­i­cantly higher prices, is the con­ve­nient Mid­town lo­ca­tion, the el­e­gantly hos­pitable dé­cor, and the French éclat. In other words, it doesn’t in­tim­i­date the many peo­ple who still fear Bu­ford High­way, where English is the sec­ond—or third or fourth—lan­guage.

I’ve sam­pled noth­ing on the menu that I can’t rec­om­mend. A par­tic­u­larly and pre­dictably popular dish is the “Shak­ing Beef.” That’s chunks of An­gus steak with let­tuce, caramelized onions, and let­tuce in jus vinai­grette. Squeeze a lime slice over the lit­tle bowl of salt and just barely dunk the ten­der beef in it. It’s de­lec­ta­ble—bet­ter than most in town—but it did make me nos­tal­gic for the same dish made with filet mignon at the much-missed Nam in Mid­town Prom­e­nade (it also em­pha­sized the French in­flu­ence).

The pho, long ago per­fected by Wong, re­mains ad­dic­tive. Of course, the weird—tripe, for ex­am­ple—doesn’t ap­pear in the bowls here. They are afloat with flank steak, brisket, and suc­cu­lent lit­tle meat­balls, as well as noodles. A plate of head-on prawns sautéed with chili oil and onions re­ver­ber­ates with the kind of crys­tal-clear fla­vors I love about Viet­namese food. Yes, you must suck the heads. On the other hand, I didn’t much care for the beef stew. If you dig soy sauce, you’ll like it, but I’ve never been a fan of in­tense brown sauces. A star­tling dish with re­port­edly won­der­ful fla­vors is the whole flash-fried fish with crispy gin­ger, gar­lic, and Thai pep­pers.

Starters, like clas­sic spring and sum­mer rolls, are the usual. A salad of green pa­paya, mango, ap­ples and bits of peanut brittle is sharable and al­to­gether re­fresh­ing. It’s not much dif­fer­ent from the fa­mous ver­sion at Co’m on Bu­ford High­way. The rice noodles (bun) topped with your choice of meats or shrimp are my fa­vorite lunch at other restau­rants around town. You can get the same toppings on rice.

Com is a tra­di­tional Viet­namese rice dish. (Photo via Face­book)

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