Not only do they offer a formica-free dining experience, Le House shuns the Vietnamese restaurant tradition of presenting guests with those multipage menus we've grown accustomed to in favor of one so focused that I lost sight (and sound) of the Vietnamese couple joining me at this quaint Parramore eatery.
"Hmm? What was that?"
"I said it feels like they've brought the outside in," said my dining comrade, referring to the lanterns and string lights illuminating Le House's dining room. I hadn't noticed, but he was right. This was patio dining without the annoyance of bugs and sirens and coronavirus-saturated breezes.
About that tight menu, owner Huon Le says it features the sort of food he ate growing up – dishes like the outstanding nem rolls ($5) comprising pork patties, veggies and crisp-crackly eggroll wrapper snugly stuffed inside a rice paper roll. They're served with nem nuong, an orange dipping sauce equal parts sweet, garlicky and fishy that we agreed could've been more boldly flavored. The summer rolls with shrimp ($4.50) had all the flavors, but my other guest – a chef specializing in Vietnamese cuisine – was quick to point out that the fillings weren't as tightly packed as they could've been. One bite and the fillings shot out of the roll like edible confetti. No such clucking with the chicken wings ($8 for five) – these are given a delicate fry before being slicked with a sweet chili-garlic fish sauce.
It's all wonderfully balanced, and balance is also a state attained in the pho Saigon ($10) with its meaty trinity of round-eye steak, brisket and meatballs. The broth veered, ever so slightly, into sweet territory, while the noodles comprised just the right amount of chew. Fresh herbs and veggies were as lovely as the plating and presentation, which showed in a pork chop rice plate ($11) as well: The timbale of jasmine rice; perfectly round garnishes of fried egg, cucumber and tomato; the round bowl of dipping sauce – it all made for scrummy eye candy. The pork chop was darkened in a marinade of soy and sugar prior to being grilled, as is the pork and sirloin beef (should you opt for those proteins). I had some issue with the thicker portions of the pork being undercooked and the beef being a bit gristly.
A plate of veggie stir-fry noodles ($11) looked gorgeous, and the textures were spot on. The sauce in which it was all tossed was a bit too sweet for our liking, however. What was to everyone's liking was the duck bean curd noodle soup ($17), a specialty dish whose fiery broth is reddened further by annatto seed oil. Potatoes, carrots, cabbage, tofu and rice noodles lent a supporting role to the tender duck quarter, but this is one of those soups that fall into the "must slurp when sick as a dog" category. And like most everything else we had, it looked real pretty too.
At this point, I looked at the time and it was well past closing. I had my eye on the Vietnamese flan ($4) the moment I perused the menu on entering, so I asked if it was still OK to order it and, within a few minutes, I was devouring it from a cocktail glass poured over with iced Vietnamese coffee. I'm grateful they obliged as it's precisely the ending I wanted (though didn't necessarily need). Then again, at a place called Le House, I suppose I shouldn't be all too surprised that they'd be ... well ... accommodating.