1715 Solano Avenue, Berkeley 510.525.8300 | website
Mr. K’s big bro Mike came out for a visit a few weeks ago and we had a lovely rendezvous with his son and girlfriend who were also in town for a long weekend. We went to Vanessa’s Bistro, which serves Vietnamese Tapas with a French Twist, up on Solano Avenue in Berkeley. The chef, Vanessa Dang, cooked at Le Cheval in Oakland and Bridges in Danville before opening the neighborhood bistro with her daughter Vi Nguyen who manages the front of the restaurant. It’s a small cozy L shaped restaurant with a large bar area in the front and you can see into the kitchen and watch Vanessa and crew busily concocting in the kitchen. We shared a number of small plates, beginning with Salt and Pepper fried calamari with spicy lime dipping sauce ($8). I loved the crisply seared vegetables mixed in with the lightly battered pieces of silky smooth calamari. Thick slices of aromatic bell peppers, jalapeno and onion added a lovely fresh flavor to the dish.
The chef borrows ingredients and techniques from other cuisines as with the Tuna and salmon poke with ginger, avocado, mango, english cucumber and tomato salsa $9 which disappeared quickly. This was quite delicious, the pieces of salmon and tuna were richly coated with a delicious soy and sesame glaze.
Maple leaf duck confit lettuce wrap with fresh basil and roasted peanuts tossed with a chipotle and black bean sauce ($9) was a delicious and refreshing surround sound experience.
The addition of chipotle added a smoky complexity to the duck, which is mixed with shiitake mushrooms and onion in a savory glaze. It was very good rolled up in the verdant, crisp lettuce leaves along with crunchy pickled daikon and carrot shreds layered with fragrant leaves of fresh mint and cilantro.
I admit that I can’t resist Shaking filet mignon salad with garlic brandy butter sauce ($11), when I see it on the menu. This is Vanessa’s version of bò lúc lắc, the beef was succulently tender and mouth-watering – cooked just enough past rare achieving that marvelous velvety melt-in-your-mouth texture. It came with a simply elegant dip of fresh lime juice mixed with salt and pepper.
The next few dishes were less adventurous but more familiar, rich with the flavors of fish sauce, fresh vegetables and herbs. Stir Fry Curry Noodles with Prawns and Crispy Tofu and vegetables, garnished with peanuts ($9), which formed exciting contrasts in textures and flavor.
The Spicy lemongrass chicken with roasted peanuts ($9), had that explosively rich combination of sweet, tart, spicy and savory that begs to be spooned over steamed white rice.
Wok Fried Garlic Petite Bok Choy $7 had a nice spicy bite to it that provided a clean crunchy element to the meal.
My favorite dish of the night was the Claypot rice with chicken and prawns, fresh shiitake mushrooms baby bok choy ($10). I would have been happy if this was all mine…
At the bottom of the claypot we scraped off the delectably crunchy rice crust, which was dark and caramelized and completely addictive.
Our order of Garlic butter egg noodles ($5) arrived late and was served by itself after all of the entrees, a prelude to dessert. It’s sweet and savory, rich and buttery and infused with garlic, I wonder if I can make this at home…
Coincidentally, it was Mike’sbirthday, so he celebrated with a slice of Mixed berries cheesecake with whipped cream ($7), which made him remember their mom Harriet’s delicious cheesecake that she would make for special occasions as these. We all wished him many happy returns.
The rest of us shared a bowl of Vanilla Ice Cream ($4), which was served in a crunchy edible cookie bowl!
We left feeling very satisfied, everything was delicious and we especially appreciated Vi, who was so helpful and friendly. She even got her hardworking mom to briefly look up for me to take a picture…
I only wish this neighborhood bistro was in my neck of the woods… but it’s close enough that I’ll be back.