Thursday, April 29, 2010


Today's culinary adventure takes us up Connecticut Avenue to Cleveland Park. We don't get up to these parts very often, but our fearless guide Alex led us in the direction of Nam-Viet. He was careful to warn us to go to Nam-Viet and not Vietnam. Thanks for the directional tip (he was a geography major at UCLA).

The first thing you'll notice upon entering Nam-Viet is the random Taco Bell-shaped archway and the "fancy" mural.

The next thing you might notice is the framed pictures of old white military dudes. Anyone know the story behind this?

On the way to the restaurant I perused Yelp to see what dishes people liked at Nam-Viet. There were raves about the crispy spring rolls and the menu called them "famous," so we had to give them a try. I thought they were pretty standard spring rolls. Good, but not something that stands out from the incredibly crowded field of DC fried appetizers.

I asked the waiter for an appetizer recommendation to supplement the 2 spring rolls and he mumbled something about squid and salad. We ended up with a very tasty calamari dish served over a bed of greens. It had a nice, light crunch and a gingery finish. Thumbs up.

Continuing the deep fried tour of Vietnam, the waiter suggested that B order the soft shell crab. He did and he loved it. It had a similar light coating as the calamari, but had a unique sweetness to it that we've never experienced before. If you're cool with crunching down on crab shells, you can't lose with this dish.

I failed by not asking the waiter to recommend an entree. I was a bit overwhelmed by the lengthy menu and plethora of cilantro-laden options. I retreated to my culinary safe zone and ordered the stir fried noodles with mixed vegetables and tofu. The noodles and tofu were nicely cooked but the carrots, cauliflower, and baby corn threw me off. They just didn't seem to jive with the flavor of the dish. It definitely wasn't Nam-Viet's fault that I ordered poorly. As the kids these days like to say "Ordering Fail."

So would we venture back to Cleveland Park to test out more of Nam-Viet's extensive menu? Probably, but I think I'll skip looking at the menu and just ask the waiter. For those keeping score at home: B's streak of waiter-recommended ordering successes is at 14 million while J's streak of ordering noodles is at 7.4 million. Time for a change up!

Second Thoughts from B

This is how the ordering went:

B: What would you recommend?
Waiter: Maybe you should try the shob swelt wab (or something equality unintelligible)...
B: What?
Waiter: Shob swelt wab.
B: (clearly confused and trying to not embarrass anyone) Where is that on the menu?
Waiter: Not on the menu... Very good.
B: (still confused and in a tough spot) It's good, huh? Um... ok, let's do it.
Alex: Do you know what you ordered?
B: No clue.
J: Soft shelled crab.
B and Alex: Oooooh.

So with my full plate of awkward I got a nice helping of soft shelled crab. As J said, it had a good crunch and a unique flavor. It was savory and sweet at the same time. The best way to describe it would be to think about Lay's BBQ chips. In fact, once I put it together, I couldn't get the comparison out of my mind. I guess there's a reason for the neon green sign in the window (which I should've read before coming in)...
Nam-Viet on Urbanspoon


Karena said...

ooo I've never seen the soft shell crab there. i usually stick with the bun hanoi or the pork with crispy spring roll over rice vermicelli...but who am I kidding, I get that stuff at any vietnamese place ;) One thing I have learned - it's not a place for pho. no.

Victoria said...

"I was a bit overwhelmed by the lengthy menu and plethora of cilantro-laden options."---that's because she doesn't like cilantro!

Victoria said...

Ok, last one for me I promise. Not really possible to comment on every post where B asks the wait staff for their suggestion, since none of us have the patience for that. I'm just commenting on this one because shob swelt wab is pretty funny.

Anonymous said...

Hey, sorry I stumbled upon your lovely blog on urban spoon (no sarcasm meant), my friend's family owns the Nam-Viet restautants and the pictures are of Vietnam War veterans who served with the late owner, my friend's Dad, Thoi Nguyen. They have reunions every so often. The orange chicken, lemongrass chicken, and one of the chicken salads are my favorite there!

J said...

Thanks for letting us know about the pictures! We couldn't figure it out and appreciate the insight.