35. DISTRICT ONE
ELV note: District One is so good (and keeps getting better), we thought it deserved the full, Eating Las Vegas review treatment a second time.
Eating Las Vegas has often wondered whether Vietnamese food in America is the ultimate revenge for that little dust-up we caused there in the 60s. They could never hope to outgun us, the thinking goes, so the expats figured they’d bore us to death with their cuisine.
What Chef/owner Khai Vu is doing at District One Kitchen & Bar is giving lie to that notion and standing Vietnamese food on its ear, and creating glamour in a cuisine that used to have all the sex appeal of Hilary Clinton.
He’s doing this by staying true to the idom of the country — food rich in fresh herbs, accents, sour, fermented flavors and loaded with contrasts in both texture and aromas — but tweaking it into small, sexy plates (and big soup statements) that are as far from the same old same old as a soft shell crab is from a Mrs. Paul’s Fish Stick.
Take, for example, his Vietnamese carpaccio:
Thinly pounded sirloin is stretched provocatively over a rectangular plate, then “marinated” in fresh lime juice and drizzled with sizzling sesame oil. The effect is, at once familiar and strange — with the oil and acid created a warm, salad-like taste, and the sliced onions and fried garlic all by popping in your mouth with every bite. The result is so delicious you’ll be tempted to walk up to the next Italian chef you know and ask him: “why don’t you do something like that?”
Vu doesn’t stop there when it comes to mixing his metaphors. Chinese bao (pork belly buns)…
….are getting as ubiquitous as cheeseburgers, but he gives his a Southeast Asian bent with lightly pickled daikon and carrot, micro-cilantro and fresh roasted and crushed peanuts.
The schmear of hoisin and siracha doesn’t hurt a bit either. As fond as we are of Sheridan Su’s bao at Fat Choy, these give them a run for your money.
And then there is the seafood.
Despite having almost 3,000 miles of coastline, seafood isn’t the first thing that leaps into our wok when we think of Vietnam. Maybe it’s because of all those pho parlors, or perhaps it’s because of our prejudice against cheap, farm-raised Asian seafood, but we can’t remember ever ordering anything that swims in a Vietnamese restaurant. If you’re the same, cast aside your bigoted beliefs as soon as you walk through these doors, because the lobster pho alone (pictured at top) is worth a special trip, and the yellowtail collar…
…(known as hamachi kama in Japanese restaurants) is worth two. Perfectly grilled. Clean tasting. Soft, buttery and succulent. It is the apotheosis of this fish, and as good as any you’ll find in a Japanese restaurant in our humble burg.
We could go on and on about the menu (we’ve been in four times and have tried 2/3rds of it), but there’s nary a clinker in the bunch, and standouts like the Five Spices Roasted Cornish Hen and Slow-Braised Pork Belly in Young Coconut Juice will have your entire table fighting for the last morsel.
Lest you think they serve nothing but fork-tender filet and sirloin here, we must admit we’ve had a few pieces of chewy “shaken beef” (and a very fatty short rib) show up at our table. However, these have done nothing to dissuade our palate from its enthusiasm for this nouveau take on a cuisine we had written off years ago.
As for service, it is earnest and friendly but sometimes inept. (We asked for a ladle for a shared pho and the waitron brought us a giant stainless steel one from the kitchen.)
But the groceries used here are a notch or three above its competitors, and the cooking more careful, more interesting and more scrumptious than you will find in any Vietnamese restaurant in the High Mojave Desert.
So, as it turns out, ELV really loves Vietnamese food. He just needed Khai Vu to interpret it for him.
DISTRICT ONE KITCHEN & BAR
3400 Jones Blvd. #8