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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bay View Welcomes Hue Restaurant & Lounge

Vietnamese meals already attracting a loyal following

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Hue served as the capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945, and later saw fierce fighting during the Vietnam War. Today, however, this beautiful city owns a reputation for serving some of the nation’s best food. Hue (pronounced Hway) is also the name of a new restaurant in Bay View. Mark Nielsen co-owns the eatery with Carina Tran, whose family comes from the Hue area.

The interior of Hue, which is located in the spot that formerly housed Magic Dann’s, received extensive remodeling. A wicker settee and chairs near the entryway serve as a waiting area during dinner hours and lounge seating later on. The bar area seats 10. Along with soothing wood tones, the dining room features colorful paintings of Vietnamese scenery, including a view of the charming town of Hoi An (also a great place for food).

The menu is said to focus on Hue, but nearly all of the items are common to Vietnamese menus. Items include the usual spring rolls, pho, and noodle and rice dishes. Among the less-common items are banh xeo, addictive Vietnamese flour crepes.

Appetizers may be ordered separately ($6-$7.50), but a nice introduction is to get a sampler platter ($12.50), which includes a sample of most of the items. Tom chien are shrimp fried in a batter that resembles tempura. Cha gio are crisp egg rolls of the small size typically found in Vietnam. Bo thit nuong are bamboo skewers of marinated beef seasoned with lemongrass. There also is goi cuon, a fresh rice paper spring roll filled with rice noodles, mint, lettuce (lots of it), carrot and cucumber. Shrimp and pork are promised but can barely be found amid the vegetables. Two sauces are served—the peanut sauce is quite good, but the surprise is the sweet/sour sauce with its an unexpected spicy kick. Save it for the entrees.

Pho is a noodle soup, with many regional versions found throughout Vietnam. This menu offers three varieties. The pho tai chin, bo vien ($8.50) has rice noodles, onion, cilantro and beef in three styles. Thin slices of sirloin are barely cooked; the utterly tender brisket is very well done; and halved beef balls have a springy texture. There is a plate with lime wedges, bean sprouts, basil and jalapeño slices. The key to a good pho is the broth. Whereas many broths seem plain and watery, this homemade beef broth is exceptional. Adding a touch of lime makes sense, but with a broth this savory, the optional hoisin sauce and sriracha aren’t even needed.

The banh xeo ($8.50), a large crepe made of rice flour, has a yellowish hue thanks to a bit of turmeric. The crepe is folded and filled with shrimp, beef, mushrooms and plenty of bean sprouts. Unfortunately, the bean sprouts vastly outnumber the meat.

A dish that proves otherwise is bo luc lac ($9.50), which translates as “shaking beef.” Cubes of sirloin in a sweet marinade are served over a salad of leaf lettuces with grape tomatoes, onions and garlic vinaigrette. A bowl of jasmine rice comes on the side. This is an item worth remembering.

Bun chay ($8) is a vegetarian entrée featuring rice noodles with lettuce, cucumber, carrot, mint, bean sprouts, strips of marinated daikon radish and triangles of fried tofu. The menu promised a marinade with lemongrass, garlic and ginger, but it only came with peanut sauce or nuoc cham. The sweet/sour sauce saved from the sampler platter, however, proved great for the fried tofu. Ultimately, though, this sea of raw veggies had me enviously eyeing bo luc lac at a nearby table.

The service is pleasant and the kitchen moves at a nice pace. The wine list offers about a dozen varieties served by the glass or bottle. But Vietnamese fare calls for a bottle of beer, and the beer list is much more impressive (try a bottle of “33”).

Hue already has attracted a loyal following, so expect a wait on busier evenings (Hue is closed on Mondays). And if you run into a crowd, discover the pleasure that comes from lounging in the settee while nursing a bottle of “33.”

 

Hue Restaurant & Lounge 2010-06-22

2691 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

(414) 294-0483

$$

Credit Cards: MC, VS

Smoke-Free

Handicap Accessible: Yes