Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lucking Out at LucLac

Scheduling to meet a friend for lunch downtown is always a dance. First, there's parking. I'm an inveterate street parker, eschewing unpleasant parking structures for the challenge of finding a space nearby where I can demonstrate my superior parallel parking skills. (Me? Competitive? What makes you think that?)

Then there's the question of timing, especially if the place doesn't take reservations. And the added complication that the spot we'd picked, Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen, had opened recently and was still experiencing buzz overkill, which meant the potential of a long wait in line. Fortunately my friend's schedule was flexible enough to accommodate an early meeting time, so we slipped in slightly after they opened and before the noon rush.

We got to the counter and placed our order, got our number and found a table for two near the kitchen in the back with a nice view of the room. This way we got to see what was coming out of the kitchen as well as gloat about our good sense of timing as the lunch line eventually snaked its way out the door. Ha!

The menu is divided into small plates, salads, pho, vermicelli bowls, rice plates, banh mi and kitchen specialties, all outlined in terms that even a newb to the cuisine can understand, making it a good place to learn the lingo or bring nervous relatives for an introductory foray.

We opted to share some small plates rather than going for a bowl of pho, which has drawn raves, or their eponymous Luc Lac, cubes of seared beef tenderloin. The mussels (top photo), which I have a hard time not ordering if I see them on a menu, were steamed in a lemongrass/tamarind broth with mushrooms and proved how versatile this native shellfish is. Whether inflected with Indian spices, Italian herbs or Mexican chiles, mussels are uniformly heavenly as long as they're taken off the heat as soon as they pop open. But let's not get off topic.

The crispy rolls with pork, taro, jicama, carrots and noodles (above right) were light and not at all greasy, and the de rigeur dipping sauce was a nice twist on the too-sweet stuff often served. Five-spice powder flavored the deep fried chicken wings caramelized in fish sauce and garlic (left) and would be great with a house cocktail. The papaya salad was very fresh but without much character and probably the least interesting thing we ordered.

Something I really liked about this place was the fact that, for a new place with lots of buzz, it doesn't feel over-designed. The flower-shaped umbrellas hanging from the ceiling give it a fanciful feel and the large mural on one wall provides a nice backdrop, but the funky wallpaper and the 50s tuck-and-roll banquette make it more homey than toney.

Details: Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen, 835 SW 2nd Ave. 503-222-0047.


thesharps said...

We've eaten there for lunch more than a few times. The seating thing seems to take care if itself - - that is, by the time your order is ready, you've found a place to sit, because the turnover is quite rapid since many people need to get back to work. Also, many of the orders are 'to go', so the line looks worse than it is.

The food has been amazingly consistent and delicious on all visits. My wife is hung up on one of their special plates, which is chicken and green beans cooked in some kind of sweet chile sauce with lemongrass. Loads of chicken and incredibly tasty.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Thanks for the info, guys, and glad my limited first impression wasn't wrong!

Andy said...

Might not have been appropriate at lunch (for you at least) but the bơ say avocado/rum/grand marnier bubble tea cocktail is also completely amazing.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Thanks, Andy…another good reason to return!

Anonymous said...

LOVED their pho. Lived 5 months in Vietnam and got addicted to a spicier broth—more clove. Mmmm…

Most broths in Portland are too mild—not enough flavor without doctoring up.

Will have to try those mussels!

- Stacey