When I first heard of Silver Lake, I was told it was a haven for artists, musicians, screenwriters and of course, hipsters. On any day, you can drive by the cafes and shops and see people dotted along concrete like tacks on a bulletin board. You might see about thirty people outside the shoe-fiend hangout, Undefeated, waiting for the new $150 pair of artist-endorsed Nikes. You might see a lady with two dogs at Eat Well enjoying the sunlight and smog while reading the freshest copy of LA Weekly or The Onion. You might see a crazy person yelling at a telephone pole, maybe even punch it. You might see a man strumming his guitar for some change outside of the Intelligentsia coffeeshop. You might see a couple on a morning stroll, with arms completely tatted up like sleeves. This is the area I live in, and everyday is more interesting than the next. And although there's a salad bowl mix of personalities here in this postage stamp area called Silver Lake, you might find that there is one thing that a lot of Silverlakites do have in common. On top of the artists, musicians, screenwriters and hipsters here, vegans and health-freaks can now be added to the list of usual suspects.
Being a carnivore, I paid no attention to any of the healthy restaurants. That was until J dragged me along to the Viet Soy Cafe on Hyperion. When I walked in that day, I wasn't hungry at all. When I walked out, I was enlightened and hungry for even more. Two hours after, I thought about heading back over for some of Viet Tran's tasty soy mcnuggets and Hanoi-style fish noodles. Unfortunately, Viet Soy Cafe now rests in the abyss of oblivion, with only my photos to remind me of how nice a cup of fresh soy milk and vegan food can be on a Sunday morning.
Viet Tran first started his ambitions of opening a restaurant with a simple plan: start out small and simple. Selling chicken and tofu soup noodles at the Silver Lake Farmer's market to the hungry and curious, he eventually made enough to move on. At Viet Soy Cafe, a restaurant with no more than 7 bar seats and 3 tables, he served up some light and fresh Hanoi-style food. And within a year, he's on his latest project: the Viet Noodle Bar in Atwater Village.
Last Sunday, J, Pizza Snobs and I headed over to what would be an exciting day for both Viet Tran and us. This would be the 3rd week in a row that J and I have eaten his food on a Sunday morning. We headed towards a non-descript brick building with no signage, and only orange lettering on the window identifying the establishment. We found ourselves surrounded by tall white walls in a long and narrow cavity. There were two, long communal-style,wooden tables that extended from the front to the back of the restaurant. Old, beaten-up book lined the right side of the wall – over 250 books. It definitely had a subtle library effect, which was nice. There was a light hum of downtempo playing, yet this place was very peaceful and serene; lit mainly by natural light.
We were seated and new exactly what to order. I was hoping to see the Hanoi-style noodles on the menu, but it wasn't available until December.
Sesame Soy Milk
We started out with a cold glass of soy milk, flavored with sesame. This version had sesame paste unlike the ground sesame paste from the Cafe. Still very light, and good.
Vietnamese Iced Coffee with Soy Milk
I like this because it's not as sweet as the original version made with condensed milk. God knows how many calories one cup of cafe sua da packs in.
Jicama Rolls (Bo Bia Chay)
A fresh, vegetarian take on a popular spring roll appetizer. VNB's version includes jicama, carrots, sliced tofu, basil and fried shallots with a hoisin/peanut butter sauce. Very light, and easy to eat.
Steamed Rice Cakes in Banana Leaves (Banh Nam)
This is a Hue-style dish. Rice flour, dried shrimp, fried shallots and green onions are poured into a piece of banana leaf, then folded over neatly into a small 'envelope' and wrapped with saran wrap. After steaming, you've got sort of a Vietnamese-style 'tamale'. The texture reminds me a lot of one of my favorites, banh beo, which are steamed, circular rice cakes. Served with fish sauce and sliced red chilis.
Soyskin with Shitake (Bun Chay)
Rolled sheets of soy, shitake mushrooms and fried shallots are sautéed and served over noodles that remind me of a skinnier form of banh canh, noodles made of rice and tapioca flour. The seasoning for the dish reminds me of Maggi sauce, which I whore over.
The main reason I've come to VNB was for these noodles. White sole fish is marinated in soy milk, dill & turmeric over night and then sautéed in a frying pan. This dish is garnished with cilantro, fried shallots and green onions, then served over the banh canh-like noodles. The taste is light, and even for myself, a little bit of fish sauce can knock this up. But I understand that the food served here at VNB is of the Hanoi-proper, which I've been told is typically lighter and not as bold as Saigon-style food. I love all vietnamese food, so it doesn't bother me.
Viet Noodle Bar
3133 1/2 Glendale Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90039