By Susan Ely (Food Critic)
I admit it. The first time I visited Lotus Leaf Café it was for the music, not the food. Sax player Frank Corbi was playing a gig there and invited my husband and me to come listen. While I was sure I’d enjoy the music, I wasn’t so sure about the food; I’d had some bad experiences with Vietnamese food in the past and was a little wary. I needn’t have worried – both the food and the music were extraordinary.
Dinner at Lotus Leaf is a food adventure and more; with owner Khai Doh as your guide, a trip to Lotus Leaf with $20 in your pocket is also a cultural tour of the art, history and language of Vietnam.
Lotus Leaf has made the City Search’s “best of” five times. In 2005 it was named Best Outdoor Dining, Best Pan Asian and Best Vegetarian. This year it earned Best Vietnamese and Best Seafood accolades.
Dishes are Vietnamese with influences from other Asian cuisines – Thai, Chinese and Japanese; the French influence is reminiscent of the century long colonial Indochine era. Begin your meal with fresh summer rolls or a bowl of asparagus and crabmeat soup and let your hunger level and the aromas coming from the table next to you guide your entrée choice. Honey-Lemongrass Grilled Quails, Caramelized Catfish in a clay pot, Steamed Grouper in Banana Leaf and Vietnam’s signature noodle soup, Pho (beef or chicken) are all excellent entrée choices. Desserts are on the fruity side; I opt for Saigon Coffee which comes in a glass carafe with a press on top; the white stuff at the bottom is sweetened condensed milk. Dripping from the press is the richest French roast you’ll ever taste.
The winter menu will feature heartier and spicier dishes such as Asian Bouillabaisse and Roasted Duck with apricot and orange sauce.
Lotus Leaf features year-round outdoor dining on the verandah; giant Euro-heaters keep you toasty on cool fall evenings. Stop by weeknights after work from 5 – 7 for their beer and wine specials; Live jazz is offered both Friday and Saturday nights.