Sunday, July 29, 2007

Kim's Gourmet Vietnamese R.I.P.

Staples at Kim’s far from standard.

Spoiled, that’s what we'd become.

My dining companion and I returned after many months absence to a Vietnamese restaurant we thought among the best in town. Disappointed, we found our formerly favorite dishes lacking, the flavors insipid and without flair. Had they lowered standards? Did their cooks quit? No, we’d merely been spoiled by Kim’s Gourmet Vietnamese Cuisine.

  Wes Naman
“Gourmet” is an overused word that can put diners off if they are in the mood for a fuss-free meal. The only fuss at Kim’s is the care put into each recipe. The two Kim sisters and their mother are only too glad to identify ingredients or instruct diners how to eat and enjoy each dish. There’s no danger in their revealing secrets, because the fare is not easily duplicated. Flavor and textures like this come only from an experienced chef.

The attention to detail is impeccable. All Vietnamese cooks accompany many dishes with fresh herbs, but the mark of a true chef here is Kim’s selection of basil, mint and out-of-the-ordinary beefsteak leaf with its distinct peppery-mint bite (the freshest I’ve seen outside of my own garden) plus other herbs we couldn't identify and for which Kim didn't know the English names . I once stopped in to find the restaurant closed but staff busily prepping piles of stunning fruit and vegetables that obviously didn't come from a mega-restaurant supply house (Mother Kim wouldn't reveal her source). They were actually picking through each and every mung bean sprout to remove those that were old, soggy or drying out, an unheard-of but most-welcome standard. 

Although, it’s customary to start with spring rolls, either Goi Cuon (pork and shrimp) or Goi Cuon Bo (beef and jicama) ($3) each served with their own distinct and complimentary dipping sauces, it’s a difficult choice between the two — particularly when Cha Gio (Vietnamese Egg Roll, $4.50) is another option. Smaller than the crude variety found at Chinese restaurants everywhere, these pork, vegetable and rice vermicelli egg rolls are light and delicate. Fast becoming known as “Kim’s house soup” is the White Asparagus and Crab soup (cup $2.50, bowl $4.25) served with a touch of Vietnamese red vinegar to enhance the color and the crabmeat.

Among the many choices of salads hearty with beef, chicken or tofu, we've had a tough time in our many visits making it past the Goi Bap Chuoi (Banana Blossom Salad, $10.25 with duck or $12.95 with shrimp and pork). Shallots and crushed peanuts accentuate the salads’ light cabbage flavor, while thinly-sliced, tart Granny Smith apples compliment with a covert sweetness.
EntrĂ©es vary on the luncheon and dinner menus but Pho (Beef or Chicken Vermicelli Soup, $6.50) is always available. Although a northern Vietnamese staple, Kim’s Pho is far from standard with a richer broth that  is also delicate and fragrant. The other Vietnamese staple, Bun (pork and vermicelli $9.95), is different  than other versions found elsewhere. With sliced cucumber, pickled carrot and fresh herbs, the noodles and meat are served separately, allowing the diner to create their own mix of flavors.

For meatless fare, try the awkwardly named but wonderful Vegetarian Dry Noodles ($8.75) with delectable fried tofu and vegetables topped with thinly-sliced omelet, piled in a savory broth.The Vietnamese Fondue for two ($21.95 plain, $24.95 spicy satay style) --a variation on the pan-Asian hot pot --brought to the table on a miniature gas burner. A steaming bowl is ringed with broccoli, Chinese cabbage, Chinese broccoli, mushrooms and tofu, to be dipped into the bubbling broth a few pieces at a time. Beef, chicken, shrimp and squid arrive on a separate plate for the same treatment.

Then there’s the heat. Most of Kim’s dishes can be ordered on a heat scale of 1 to 10. We usually ask for 6, just one step above “New Mexico hot.” Although, I loathe to admit it, New Mexicans don’t really eat their food all that spicy compared to fiery Southeast Asian dishes. While we were told the Kims eat theirs at 10, we soon sheepishly asked for some non-satay broth to cut the searing heat of the Fondue.

Wes Naman
It’s unbelievable that people pass up Kim’s pastry case for the local and popular coffee and dessert chain next door. My companion’s favorite is the Banana Bread Pudding ($4.25) served in a pie-like wedge with a creamy coconut drizzle. I’ve never been much for desserts, but can’t seem to pass up the Fresh Fruit Tart ($4.75) that I’ve enjoyed with any combination of strawberries, kiwis, mandarin orange, lychee fruit and more. My most recent order was topped with nothing but delectable raspberries and a restrained dusting of powdered sugar. And the Blackberry Strudel ($3.25), like all of Kim’s desserts, is a satisfying and subtle delight, never overpowered by sugar and flour. 

Upon each visit to Kim’s, we have worked our way through the menu, but have yet to get to the daily French-style specials like Gratin de Poulet, Cous Cous Royal, or the banh mi (crusty  baguette sandwiches) but Kim’s outstanding quality and personal welcome will ensure our return until we do.

Kim’s Gourmet Vietnamese Cuisine
8019-A Menaul NE, 293.4441
HOURS: 10:30a-9p Thu.-Mon.


originally appeared in  different form in  Local iQ, Sunday July 29, 2007