Vientiane Café

4728 Baltimore Avenue
(215) 726-1095
BYOB (cash only)

Syncretic sensibilities are synchronized as you enter this Laotian/Thai storefront eatery.  Southeast Asian food is served with neighborhood bonhomie, melding tastes, sometimes heartily heated, other times coolly glabrous, but always clean on the tongue.

Rice noodles, broccoli, crinkle-cut carrots and bean sprouts cling in cloisters, revering naturally campestral and rural proclivities. Simple sauces, simpler ingredient mixtures and the simplest of presentations create special comestibles: casual cultural diversity.

One enters this shy-of-twenty-feet wide shebang by passing under a blue awning via a miniscule vestibule. “OPEN” says the sign on the framed glass door.

The interior is bound by light green walls.  Silver ice cream parlor chairs with dark green round seats, and maroon-striped tablecloths surround and cover tables seating thirty patrons at a time.  Tin ceiling squares are painted white.  Two huge motionless overhead fans fail to foment a breeze.  Floors are hardwood, as brightly lacquered and varnished as a great closing argument.

Be adventurous here.  Avoid the chicken, beef and shrimp.  Opt instead for kalange root, kafir leaves and chili lemon grass.  All appear in Tom Yum vegetarian soup ($2.95).  As do chunks of carrots, onions, red bell peppers and mushrooms.  The liquid is nasty-opaque orange speckled with Asian crimson pepper flakes.  Tofu squares bobble on top as your soup spoon meanders the surface.

The steaming broth ignites your mouth.  Swallowing is followed by double vision.  You swoon with a shudder as your stomach anticipates collywobbles.  Finally your mind mows the lemon grass and disregards the momentary dyspepsia, in favor of calming warmth.  The kalange root grows esculent between one’s lips, and flowers into exotic spiciness.

Order the Tom Yum to be served with Fresh Steamed Spring Rolls ($3.95), four soft rice paper cigars filled with vegetables, verdant herbs and vermicelli.  A bite balances the heated exchange of the soup with the soft, fresh, minted fragrance.  Doused in sweet peanut sauce, the “seasoning” changes from Summer to Spring.

Nor can you miss by beginning with mellow creamy Coconut Soup ($2.95) in which carrot strips bathe sweetly with onions and crisp broccoli in white chalky milk.  Lingering dreamy aftertastes abound.

 Never do without a Ban Xeo Pancake ($5.95).  This Asian crepe resembles a three egg omelet stuffed with browned tofu pieces, bean sprouts, coarsely-cut sautéed onions and carrot shavings, assembled around sides of two sauces, one vinegar-garlic, the other sweet with crumbled crushed peanuts.  The skin of the pancake is golden thin. It flakes at your slightest touch, revealing the bevy of vegetables and sprouts.

Two of the finest entrees are the BBQ Cornish Hen ($9.95) and the Roasted Half of Duck ($14.95), the latter being the most expensive item on the menu. The former is a small hen, chopped in equal portions from gizzard to chicken-tush, marinated, then grilled with coconut milk in “house special sauce,” served with a basket-ramekin filled with glistening tawdry sticky rice. Each part, including the neck and spine, are meaty and bursting with tongue-jostling juices.  The rice becomes glued to your palate as if it were peanut butter, awaiting the melting succulence of the specially sauced Cornish contraption.

The Duck arrives soaked in tawny Tamarind sauce, with citrus-soy overtones. All is smothered by shiitake and Portobello mushroom caps.  A puddle of creamed emerald spinach spreads into a mound of Jasmine rice on your plate.  Gorgeous gormandizing.

An Order, a judgment in equity and an obligation for specific performance: eat the Banana/Chocolate Spring Roll ($5.95) for dessert!  An egg roll shall appear whose insides most resemble a Thai-Laotian cannoli-banana-split. A quartered strawberry stands guard beside it, saluting to a thick, peachy, apricot and raspberry sauce of scandalous sensuality. You will fall in love.

Please be early for dinner or lunch. Lines begin to form so that the sidewalk is as crowded as the restaurant within an hour of its opening.  When I called for a reservation (which is never taken: first come, first served), I spoke over the phone to a young Asian hostess who seemed very busy. She hurriedly and breathlessly replied, “Could you hold me just one second, please?” I didn’t dare reply.



Copyright 2006 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back