Sunday, November 11, 2007
Moving over to the East Side of Los Angeles has been a pleasant experience so far. Besides being closer to J, there were Asian markets that I could shop at and a variety of places to eat at. Korea town is to the South, Thai Town to the North and Chinatown/Little Tokyo to the East. And not to mention the cozy, down-to-earth places in the Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Atwater Village area. The Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Atwater Village area offers a lot of vegetarian and vegan options for those that are health-conscious. If you don't have the word 'organic' on your menu at least 5 times, you'll get less customers. Though being a health-conscious eater usually does not apply to me, I'll occasionally eat something healthful. Good food is still good food to me, whether it's wrapped in bacon or wrapped in a kale leaf. J has been on a health binge, so it's been hard finding a place that would satisfy us both. But sometimes you'll find a gem in the nooks and crannies of any city. May I introduce to you, Viet Soy Cafe.
After four failed attempts in going here for a meal, we were finally met with an open door. Viet Soy Cafe, named after the owner Viet Tran, is quietly tucked in between a residential area on Hyperion Avenue. I call this the Highway-perion or Die-perion, because of the cars that go by at 55-60 mph. Be careful, many people have died on this street unfortunately. On a happier note, you're in for a light lunch if you don't get runned over.
J and I walked into the cafe, a quaint little space with 6 or 7 counter top seats, one small 2-top and 2 outdoor tables. Viet Tran greeted us warmly and pointed to the counter. Behind the counter is a large fridge, and to the back is the kitchen with 1 cook and 1 dishwasher. You can see all of this happening because the space is SUPER small. But nonetheless, a feeling of coziness that you get at a lot of restaurants in the Silver Lake area.
We checked out the photo-copied menus, making sure to order the recommended dishes from Yelp reviews and Bon Vivant's posting. It was 10:30 am, and we couldn't be more excited about a healthy soy breakfast.
Fresh Organic Soy Milk with Black Sesame
I love all soy milk. The super-thick, velvety soy from Silk. The boxed Soy milk from Hong Kong, Vitasoy, that kids never wanted to trade for during my time in grade school. The hot bowl of Soy milk that the Taiwanese have for breakfast. I love it all. At Viet Soy Cafe, you can get your soy milk with flavors: black sesame, cinnamon, mint or yerba mate (grassy, green tea-like taste). The black sesame seeds are toasted and ground probably with a mortar & pestle, and then lightly sprinkled into the cool, soy liquid. The soy was very fresh and subtle in sweetness, with slight undertones of sesame. If you like yours more sweet, I'm sure you can ask for sugar. I liked it the way it was served. You can take home a quart for $5.00 with a $1.00 bottle deposit.
Besides the ubiquitous vietnamese-style coffee with condensed milk, VSC offers a version made with soymilk - looks tasty!
Everytime I shop at the Chinese market, I have to make a stop at the soy products. From the five-spiced tofu to the fried soy squares, you can make endless stir fry dishes with these as a substitution for meat. According to Viet, the soy used for this dish is different from that of the milk. When ground together and mixed in with carrots, green onions and seasonings, the result is a nice 'nugget' of goodness. Some may find it necessary to have a dipping sauce, but again, I like it simple without any accoutrements. I could have eaten another order because they were just fried perfectly, almost tasting like chicken. 6 pcs. for $3.00
Jicama, a type of turnip, is used a lot in Vietnamese cuisine. If you've had cha gio before, you've tasted it. These spring rolls are made with sliced soy cubes, julienned jicama, mint, fried shallots and served with a hoisin/peanut butter dipping sauce. The rolls are light and easy to gobble up in 2 bites. I love ANYTHING with fried shallots in it. J really liked these because they're healthy. 5 rolls for $5.00
Lemongrass Chicken 'Banh Mi' Sandwich
VSC offers three types of sandwiches: shitake & tofu, green onion sardine and lemongrass chicken. The lemongrass chicken was made with an orange aioli, probably mayonnaise and a little Sriracha mixed together. 8" sandwich for $5.00
Dill & Turmeric Fish Noodles (Bun Ca Thi La)
Like Mexican restaurants that serve their weekend menudo, Viet has his fish noodles on Sundays only. I'm more than glad he recommended this, because 3 hours after lunch, I almost drove back to Die-perion Avenue and risk my life running outside of my parked car to eat this again. The portion was small and I think he did this to strategically drive me crazy. I loved this dish. Viet said this is a Hanoi-style dish, and Hanoi food in general, has a much lighter taste than its Southern counterpart. The fish was sauteed in a pan and mixed with turmeric, dill, fish sauce, sugar and soy milk, served over bu'n noodles (rice noodles). And of course, a nice sprinkle of freshly fried shallots. I've never had this before so I have nothing to compare it to, but I will surely order this again. This Sunday. $7.00
The reviews and the overheard discussions on VSC did not disappoint me. While I'm curious as to how it would do in areas like San Gabriel Valley and Westminster, even Hanoi, you have to appreciate it for what it is. It's a cozy, quaint, tasty, health-conscious addition to the Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Atwater Village area with a nice, hard-working owner. A lot of people are vegetarian/vegan in this area and VSC is exactly the type of place they want. Even for a carnivore like me. This beats a coma-inducing meal at my other breakfast joint, Eat Well. If I were to open a restaurant, I would want a space exactly like this – 15-20 seats, 10 things on the menu. When you don't have too many items on the menu, you have more time to focus on making something the best it can be and you can actually talk to your patrons. Thanks for reading.
***A-hem, A-hem, A-hem***
Viet Soy Cafe will be closed for a few weeks starting 11/25. Viet Tran is opening his other restaurant, Viet, in the Atwater Village, ACROSS from Indochine Cafe. Viet will feature Hanoi-stye Pho (more subtle than Saigon-style Pho and less toppings), cha gio egg rolls, banh cuon crepes, and much more.
Viet Soy Cafe
1997 Hyperion Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Sunday - Thursday 10am-3pm (closed Friday & Saturday)
Viet (Atwater Village)
3133 Glendale Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90039