MODERN VIETNAMESE CUISINE HITS WEST L.A.
Your imagination, not to mention your palate, may conjure certain images and expectations when it comes to Vietnamese cuisine, so you'd be apt to broaden whatever may come to mind when visiting Không Tên, a fantastic New Vietnamese restaurant in West L.A.
And what exactly is New Vietnamese cuisine?
"Looking at first generation immigrant American cuisines, you'll find traditional recipes made with traditional ingredients," says co-owner Kim Vu. "In California, second wave ethnic cuisines prepare traditional recipes with the bounty of fresh, local California produce and heritage proteins.
"I envision dropping the Santa Monica Farmers Market, where we source a large portion of our produce and proteins, in the middle of Vietnam," Vu continues. :What would young, Vietnamese-born, Vietnamese-raised, and Vietnamese-trained chefs make with ingredients they may not have seen before? In my mind's eye, this is New Vietnamese cuisine — a reimagination of Vietnamese flavors for current day California.
"I hope this concept also begins to address the question of Asian-American identity. For so many of us, we find ourselves deemed by others not quite Asian enough, yet our experiences aren't really American either. It's true that I am nothing like my parents and relatives who immigrated here in the seventies and eighties, and I am also nothing like a young Vietnamese born woman living in Vietnam today. Yet, aren't I as authentically Vietnamese as they are?"
And that question is attempted to be answered via the bold and daring and delectable fare at Không Tên.
A partnership between Don Andes, owner of popular Echo Park spots Little Joy Cocktails and The Holloway, and Kim Vu, who has spent more than 20 years in Southern California restaurants and building Vucacious Catering, a full-service caterer that's created unforgettable meals for large-scale events for clients like BMW, Microsoft and Fiji Water, don't expect to find popular Vietnamese dish pho on the menu.
"I am Vietnamese-American, and the food I cook is completely different from the food my grandparents cooked before they left Vietnam, which is completely different than the food cooked by a modern Vietnamese chef in Vietnam—but it's all Vietnamese food," Vu explains.
During our recent visit for dinner, we started with the very pleasing Toothpick Beef prepared with sesame chile oil. It is delicious.
Great Small Plate items include the Organic Chicken Wings as well as the Pull Apart Shrimp Fritters with Thao Farm sweet potato, Vietnamese aioli, and lime. Both are very satisfying dishes. Other options include P&B Pork Spare Ribs, and Black PEI Mussels with red coconut milk curry and Lap Xuong.
For Big Plate options, get the Grilled Marinated Pork Chop with Kohlrabi and Asian per slaw, and peanuts as it's so tender and flavorful. Another winner is the Black Bean & Ginger Braised Beef Cheeks with bone marrow and Coleman Farm greens.
And do make sure to order the Crab Fried Rice with uni emulsion and 63 Degree Farm Egg. It's a side dish but can serve as its own delicious entrée. It's that damn good. Also, the Vietnamese Cauliflower Elote with dried shrimp, chile and lime is a great addition.
And props to the bar team for crafting an impressive cocktail program. I don't know why I wasn't expecting solid cocktails but I was so satisfied when I had the R?u Ram Boulevardier with R?u Ram leaves, Rittenhouse Rye, Cynar, and BroVo Sweet Vermouth, and the Garcia Farm Mai Tai with rum, lime juice, amaretto, BroVo Orange Curacao, and Garcia Farm guava.
And do make sure to save room for dessert as the Forbidden Black Rice Pudding with Garcia guava and herbs is stellar, as is the Five Spice Molten Chocolate Cake with cardamom and salted caramel cashew brittle.
Không Tên works as a West L.A. neighborhood gem as well as a destination for adventurous Vietnamese-inspired cuisine and cocktails.
"While the dishes we serve at Không Tên are in way traditional, they are one hundred percent authentic. Just as I am," says Kim Vu.
Go and get lost in truly inspired dishes that really do delight.
Không Tên is located at 11520 West Pico Blvd. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 am to midnight with happy hour from 3 pm to 6pm and late-night drink specials starting at 10 pm. Call 424-832-7000.
Story by Jose Martinez