The Washington Post

Eden Cen­ter lands a fa­mil­iar name

- BY TIM CARMAN

If the name sounds fa­mil­iar, you’re not imag­in­ing it. Lit­tle Viet Gar­den was a highly re­garded restau­rant in Claren­don in the 1990s, back when the Vir­ginia sub­urb was a des­ti­na­tion for Viet­namese cook­ing, not a cra­dle of con­do­mini­ums and big-box re­tail shops.

Nearly a quar­ter cen­tury af­ter it de­buted in Claren­don, Lit­tle Viet Gar­den resur­faced last week in the Eden Cen­ter, the epi­cen­ter of Viet­namese cook­ing in the metro area. Co-own­ers and spouses Michael Phan and Anh Hong de­cided to res­ur­rect the name when they ex­panded their ex­quis­ite banh mi shop, Banh Ta Deli, into a full-ser­vice Viet­namese restau­rant.

The own­ers are call­ing it a soft- open­ing be­cause it’s been awhile since they’ve run a sit-down restau­rant. They need to build their chops back up.

“It will take a lit­tle while to get back on track,” Phan said. “We’re work­ing on it.”

Phan and Hong’s last restau­rant was Green Pa­paya, a re­fined Viet­namese re­treat in Bethesda. It closed in 2012. Be­fore that, the cou­ple (and other fam­ily mem­bers) owned and op­er­ated Lit­tle Viet Gar­den. It was a fa­vorite of Phyl­lis C. Rich­man, former restau­rant critic for The Wash­ing­ton Post.

“The Wash­ing­ton area has won­der­ful Viet­namese restau­rants, and Claren­don is the heart of this bounty,” Rich­man wrote in a 1992 re­view. “You wouldn’t think there’d be a need for one more pretty good one. But we have none other like Lit­tle Viet Gar­den.”

Phan and Hong sold their share of Lit­tle Viet Gar­den in 2000 to a fam­ily mem­ber and, in short order, opened Green Pa­paya in Bethesda, where the own­ers could charge up­ward of $24 for an en­tree. (Lit­tle Viet Gar­den lasted an­other eight years be­fore clos­ing.) Such prices won’t fly at the Eden Cen­ter, Phan said. They’ll keep the en­trees in the $15-to-$18 range.

Lit­tle Viet Gar­den’s menu will fea­ture more than 100 dishes pre­pared by Phan and Hong. Their menu will in­clude stan­dard Viet­namese fare — ver­mi­celli dishes, pho, rolls, rice plates — but it also will fea­ture such en­trees as prawns in a salted but­ter-and-gar­lic sauce, Mekong shrimp in a creamy curry sauce and whole crispy floun­der with a spicy gin­ger sauce.

Phan said that, within the first six months of busi­ness, he and his wife will pare the sprawl­ing menu into some­thing more man­age­able. But first they need to find out what their cus­tomers want: Din­ers will be the ul­ti­mate ar­biters on what dishes make the cut.

One thing will never go away, how­ever: the banh mi sand­wiches that Hong builds with such crafts­man­ship. One sec­tion of Lit­tle Viet Gar­den, dubbed Banh Ta Cor­ner, will be re­served for Hong’s bread-based artistry.

“She won’t give that up,” Phan said. “She said, ‘I got to have some sand­wiches in there.’”

Lit­tle Viet Gar­den, 6783 Wil­son Blvd., Falls Church. 703-532-1069.

tim.carman@wash­post.com

 ?? MICHAEL PHAN ?? Banh Ta Deli is ex­pand­ing and tak­ing on a new, if fa­mil­iar, name: Lit­tle Viet Gar­den, which the own­ers helped run years ago.
MICHAEL PHAN Banh Ta Deli is ex­pand­ing and tak­ing on a new, if fa­mil­iar, name: Lit­tle Viet Gar­den, which the own­ers helped run years ago.

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