My Mom has been saying for a while that she wanted to try Xyclo, a "modern Vietnamese" restaurant on Piedmont Ave. This week, with a house guest wanting to take us to dinner, I finally agreed. I'm always a little dubious of "gringo-friendly" versions of ethnic food, but after reading some positive comments here, I was willing to be open-minded.
My first impression, though, was that it was surprisingly loud. Despite wooden-slatted walls, it was almost too noisy to have a conversation (we were all leaning across the smallish 4-top to hear each other). It did quiet down over the course of the evening, but beware the noise level during peak times.
Fortunately, the food was good enough to make the overall experience enjoyable. We ordered the roll sampler for the table and it was generous enough for four: three each of the four types of "raw" rolls and two each of the three types of fried rolls, served with both peanut sauce and nuoc cham. I lost track of which were which, but they were all very good: the fried rolls crisp and not greasy and the "raw" rolls sparkling fresh with well-balanced fillings. I started to feel more positive about the prospects of the meal. I ordered the bun cha Hanoi, and it was also fresh and flavorful. I would have liked a few more fresh herbs with the greens, but the nicely charred and sauced meat didn't need herbs to be tasty and the noodles were tender and not clumpy. I had bites of a couple of other dishes and they were also good, including the steamed tofu, which was silky and delicately sauced, and the garlic noodles, which weren't as over-poweringly garlicy and oily as some versions. The dish I wouldn't order again was the Vietnamese carpaccio -- the meat appeared to have been frozen and sliced, as it often is for pho, and the meat flavor was overwhelmed by the "vinaigrette." If I'm eating raw meat, I want to taste the meat!
The drinks list includes the now-requisite list of fancy cocktails with exotic ingredients, but also some well-thought-out choices for wines by the glass: I had a glass of German riesling and my Mom had a Gewurtztraminer. The pours were very generous!
In all, although I'm not sure I'd run back there, I wouldn't hesitate to go again if the occasion called for that kind of "upscale" dining experience.
After dinner, we walked down the street to the new Tango Gelato location. I had an orange-cardamom which was delicious. The taste I had of the chocolate revealed a depth of flavor that stacked up well against gelato on my recent trip to Italy.
4218 Piedmont Ave
A previous discussion of Xyclo:
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