Serving Sake to a Serb: Green Leaf

Fresh spring rolls with shrimp and pork
Slavko's experience with Vietnamese cuisine was limited: Pho. Once. Hungover. At What the Pho in Bellevue.

Vietnamese soup certainly possesses healing power over hangovers and other ailments. But the Vietnamese have a style of cooking that deserves so much more credit than that. It tastes cleaner and healthier than the cuisine of most other Asian countries, owing to its heavy reliance on fresh vegetables, herbs, and preference for grilling over deep-frying.

What better way for Slavko to experience these delights than with a trip to one of Seattle's most Vietnamese restaurants?

Green Leaf packs in people like sardines everyday, all eager to get a speedy fix of fresh, authentic Vietnamese cooking. Since its 2005 inception, word-of-mouth and media attention have made the modest family-run restaurant the city's worst kept secret gem. But it's well worth rubbing elbows with other customers to venture in for a taste.

Bún dac biet
Slavko brightened up as soon as he stepped inside, accosted by plaudits plastered on the walls, fanciful food arrangements, and the scent of basil and sizzling meats. "I have a feeling this is going to be good," he announced. He briefly glanced over the menu, then shut it. "Go ahead and order something for me," he said with ease. "Something with a lot of... stuff."

Heeding his request, I went ahead and ordered the bún dac biet combo, a vermicelli dish loaded with grilled chicken, pork chop, skewered shrimp, and a sliced, fried egg roll. For good measure, I also asked for an appetizer: fresh spring rolls.

The latter arrived almost immediately, four cylinders of rice paper packed with giant lettuce leaves, vermicelli noodles, large shrimp, and barbecued pork. Slavko dipped his in the accompanying peanut sauce and eagerly bit in.

"This is incredible," he marveled. "I've never had a spring roll that wasn't fried. It's so fresh. I can see through what I'm eating!" I explained that the wrapping was made of rice paper. "Well, I love rice paper!" he enthused.

He was even happier when his entrée arrived, which as he wanted, contained a lot of stuff. The bún dac biet came in a large bowl, garnished with fried shallots, cilantro, and pickled assorted vegetables. I suggested he add in fish sauce for seasoning, he smiled and complied. Apparently, Vietnamese food made Slavko an easy person to deal with.

He dove in with his chopsticks. "Incredible," he repeated again. He noted the awesome presentation, the fact that he wasn't overwhelmed, despite the fact that the dish was loaded with a dozen or more strong features. "It's so fresh that I can tell the difference between all the ingredients," he noted.

"Can I have a bite?" I asked.

"Of course," he said, but hesitated.

Then he placed - in all seriousness - a carrot on my plate. Seeing my shocked expression, he quickly doled out some vermicelli noodles, too. Then defended himself: "This is my new favorite Asian restaurant."


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