“You girls know how to eat”, our hostess smiled at us, the check attached. Ten things. At a tapas place like Vanessa’s Bistro where everything sounds tasty, I’d say we did a pretty good job narrowing down our choices, and we asked for the house recommendations only three times. All rendered success.
The first decision was the easiest: we’d got to get the sweet potato fries. Neither mushy like their orange cousins nor mealy like the white kinds, these Okinawan sweet potatoes, or purple yams, are sturdy in texture and just gently sweet. With or without the ginger aioli, they were loved. The small plates also stood alone splendidly, not that their dipping sauce came short.
Black pepper cured filet carpaccio with roasted peanuts, fried shallots and Asian mint (húng quế). A twist on the classic Vietnamese
bò nhúng dấm (carpaccio with vinegar) bò tái chanh (carpaccio with lime). (Thanks for the correction, Linh-Dang!)
Doesn’t look like much but it’s my favorite of the night: Maple Leaf duck confit lettuce wraps with mushroom, onion and roasted peanuts; a sweet, slightly zesty black bean sauce for dipping. The pickled radish and daikon carry a gentle fruity note, had our hostess not been so busy with the other tables I would have asked her what kind of vinegar they used to pickle.
Dungeness crab and mozzarella rolled in an oven-baked petrale sole filet, which was dressed in a lemon caper beurre blanc. The accompanied potato croquet is nothing to write home about, but we left no trace of the fish roll. It’s a Vanessa’s Special that doesn’t get served every night, we’re told.
It’s been a while since I’ve dug into Vietnamese food, mostly because I’m afraid of getting less than I expect. The same thing happens to my Chinese, Korean and Japanese friends with their respective cuisine: we compare the “authentic” stuff at the restos with what our mom makes or what we remember eating in our motherland, and we shrug. Now Vanessa’s Bistro didn’t disappoint. It doesn’t dwell on authenticity, then again, the nature of Vietnamese cuisine speaks mix-and-match. The restaurant looks Western but it smells Vietnamese. The plates and their names are dressed up in French but the core ingredients ring familiar tunes. Everything is sweet and savory. We intentionally ignored the more Vietnamese shaken beef (bò lúc lắc) and claypots to have room for innovations, and innovations we got, but it’s nice to see that the roots are still there.
Address: Vanessa’s Bistro
1715 Solano Ave
Dinner for three (ladies): $97.89