Review

With this Vietnamese restaurant, one taste is all you need

CorrespondentJuly 11, 2013 

  • Taste Vietnamese Cuisine

    152 Morrisville Square Way, Morrisville

    919-234-6385

    facebook.com/taste.v.cuisine

    Cuisine: Vietnamese

    Rating: * * * 1/2

    Prices: $-$$

    Atmosphere: casual

    Noise Level: moderate

    Service: eager to please

    Recommended: cha gio, goi cuon, pho, banh mi, sizzling fish, anything with grilled pork

    Open: Lunch daily, dinner Wednesday-Monday

    Reservations: accepted

    Other: beer only; accommodates children; limited vegetarian selection; small sidewalk patio; parking in lot.

    The N&O’s critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories: *  *  *  *  *  Extraordinary *  *  *  *  Excellent. *  *  *  Above average. *  *  Average. *  Fair.

    The dollar signs defined: $ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $16. $$$ Entrees $17 to $25. $$$$ Entrees more than $25.

Like any Vietnamese restaurant worth its fish sauce, Taste Vietnamese Cuisine serves its pho with a side plate of the traditional garnishes: sprigs of basil and cilantro, slices of fresh jalapeño, a wedge of lime, and a generous pile of bean sprouts. Add as many of these as you like to the bowl, where they’ll mingle with rice noodles and morsels of beef (your choice of cuts, from ribbons of tripe to rosy petals of rare filet mignon) in a fragrant broth spangled with chopped scallion.

You can further tweak the dish, if you like, with a squeeze or two of hoisin or Sriracha hot sauce from the plastic bottles on the table. Ask your server to bring fish sauce, if that’s your thing.

But first, do yourself a favor. Before you make a single adjustment to the soup in the cavernous bowl before you, breathe in a whiff of its intoxicating vapors. Is that cinnamon? Ginger? Maybe a whisper of star anise?

Then take a hint from the restaurant’s name: Taste the beef broth just as it comes, straight from the kitchen. Fairly thrumming with a marrow-deep savor that can only come from long-simmered beef bones, it’s at the same time so clean and light that it hits the spot on a hot summer evening.

Now feel free to doctor away, though that first taste may well have persuaded you to be a little more sparing with the condiments than you’d originally planned.

Same goes for cha gio, crisp Vietnamese egg rolls that are packed with flavor even before you dip them in the chile- and lime-spiked fish sauce that accompanies them. And for goi cuon, fresh spring rolls whose contents – a pastel patchwork of shrimp, pork, lettuce, mint and vermicelli seen through supple, translucent rice paper wrappers – need just a light dip in peanut sauce to set them off.

By American overstuffed sandwich standards, the banh mi at Taste may at first appear to be a little light on fillings. All it takes is a couple of bites to realize that the combination of grilled meat (chicken, beef or pork), pickled vegetables, fresh jalapeño and chopped cilantro on a baguette is precisely right.

Lacquered with Vietnamese barbecue sauce, the pork in particular is as good as you’ll find in these parts. It’s a worthy entree option, too, served simply over steamed rice or in the house specialty Saigon Special Vermicelli Bowl, where it’s joined by char-broiled shrimp and cha gio over a kaleidoscope of fresh vegetables and noodles.

You won’t go wrong with lemongrass pork chops, either. Or with sizzling fish filet (usually basa fish, a member of the catfish family with a delicate taste and texture) dusted with curry spices, seared to a moist, crisp-edged turn and presented under a shower of sautéed onions, with a plate of vermicelli and fresh herbs on the side.

It’s nearly impossible to make a bad choice, in fact, whether you order from the menu or opt for one of the daily specials. The classic savory crêpe called banh xeo, say. Or Vietnamese barbecued beef short ribs that proved so popular that they recently earned a spot on the regular menu.

Taste Vietnamese Cuisine opened in January in Morrisville Square Shopping Center, but the dining room is still a work in progress. Owners Song Nguyen and his wife, Phuong Kim Nguyen, closed the restaurant on July 4 to paint the dining room. When they reopened the following day, the brash tropical colors on the wall had been replaced by a more sophisticated color scheme of cream, gold and red. To decorate those walls, Song Nguyen is searching for traditional Vietnamese musical instruments to add to the restaurant’s current collection of one.

Service, a bit uneven in the first few weeks after the restaurant opened, has improved markedly.

The kitchen, on the other hand, was firing on all cylinders from the start. Turns out Phuong Nguyen and her sister owned a little eatery called Green Basil in North Raleigh for several years before selling it over a decade ago. Because of its location in a nondescript mall, that restaurant flew under the radar of many foodies, myself included. Clearly, we didn’t know what we were missing.

ggcox@bellsouth.net or blogs@newsobserver.com/mouthful

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