Thornton Park's Eola Lounge brings some deep Vietnamese edge to their fusion cuisine

Hanoi rocks

Thornton Park's Eola Lounge brings some deep Vietnamese edge to their fusion cuisine
photo by Rob Bartlett

There is something sly happening at new Thornton Park spot Eola Lounge. Little on the surface — neither the beckoning but nondescript name nor the atmosphere — gives it away. It's in the menu, though not necessarily obvious to the casual diner.

Eola Lounge is not a Vietnamese restaurant per se. But peering out from the familiar strands of Mediterranean, European and American cuisines here is an unmistakably Viet point of view. The interpretations are modernized and remixed, but the inspirations are legit. Sure, the various Asian nods suggest it. But the true tell is the pickled mustard greens, or dua chua, which are seldom found in local Vietnamese restaurants but are ubiquitous in Vietnamese home cooking. At Eola Lounge, dua chua stars in three dishes.

One is the braised pork-belly bao ($18), which features three taco-style stuffed buns. The name is clear about the pork being braised. What it doesn't say, but should, is that the luxurious slices are then fried to crisp glory. The result is a wonderful union of crunchy, fatty pork; soft, sweet bao; sweet hoisin-esque sauce; fresh herbaceous cilantro, and the perfect tart edge from those lovely pickled mustard greens. Take that, kimchi.

Another dish here straight from the motherland is the shaken beef ($24). The proper Vietnamese name is bo luc lac and, as you can see from this translation, it has yet to find an appetizing English description. But, trust, it's a delicious pan-tossed beef dish. And Eola Lounge's take, while a little subtle on the seasoning compared to my grandfather's peerless rendition, is respectable. The tender steak cubes are cooked medium-rare with onions, scallions and cherry tomatoes, all sided with a fresh salad of field greens and cucumber.

Regarding the classic Vietnamese summer roll, Eola Lounge offers three different riffs. Rather than the traditional boiled shrimp, their shrimp is grilled ($16). There are also steak ($20) and grilled chicken ($20) versions. Befitting their East-meets-West approach, the filling mingles mixed greens with traditional herbs like mint. In fact, their rolls are very greens-forward, with no vermicelli and only a small amount of meat, at least in the chicken one I had. Nothing wrong with that angle; it just takes more peanut sauce to adequately dress the ample greenery.

Wings are prominently featured here, with three different pan-Asian varieties on the menu. They all seemed to skew a little sweet, even the chili-lime wings ($14), but the extra-crisp batter was a textural delight.

European influences lean Mediterranean, with plates like roasted garlic hummus with pita ($9), calamari ($14) and black truffle burrata ($14). One standout on this end was the Greek feta and tomato ($14), which topped those fresh ingredients with a sauce of cooked tomatoes and olives that lent an impressive level of dimension. This Mediterranean take was a refreshing, bold salad that bested caprese in both flavor and texture.

click to enlarge Thornton Park's Eola Lounge brings some deep Vietnamese edge to their fusion cuisine
photo by Rob Bartlett

In food and mood, Eola Lounge's presentation is stylish but not stiff. As a social place, it's both restaurant and lounge. Light house music plays and there are spaces for all manner of socializing, from couch sets to high tables to a bar. While the garden-inspired atmosphere is cosmo casual, it's relaxed enough to allow for everyday neighborhood hangout pastimes like some TVs playing. Most of the proper sit-down tables are out on the covered and ample sidewalk area. It's all nice and approachable without trying too hard. But, like the upscale neighborhood, the food is not bargain-minded. While the tapas-style menu tends toward small plates, it doesn't tend toward small prices.

Eola Lounge isn't exactly trying to bring some of that Mills 50 funk into Thornton Park, but with evident heart and inspiration, they're slipping some slick Vietnamese flair into downtown's toniest neighborhood. And while the digs are in perfect accord with the modern Thornton Park aesthetic, the kitchen's deep Asian influences give this young spot some surprising and clever distinction.

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