Sunday, August 30, 2009

Far East Nashville

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Far East Nashville
1108 Fatherland Street

See update below 11/27/10

Far East Nashville isn’t what we’ve been used to in Vietnamese food. The classic family places in West Nashville have ruled here, and continue to do so with huge menus, authentic tastes and really good food. Far East Nashville strips all of that down with a simple, almost Spartan, menu and a hip East Nashville location. After you settle in and see what the chef is doing the answer becomes clear: we’re finally ready to branch out in this town and try something new.

The interior is much like the menu: sleek and elegant. Some light jazz plays in the background and the high ceilings are punctuated by modern lighting. That menu size does surprise. There are exactly 13 items and one of those is actually an add-on to the pho. Two appetizers, one pho option, a couple of sandwiches and seven entrees: that’s it. Skepticism sets in quickly. We’re used to an array of pho and dozens of noodle choices along with at least several dishes we’ve never even heard of. Not the case at Far East Nashville. Everything is straightforward and simple.

It’s not until you sink your teeth into the barbecue pork sandwich that you understand. Simplicity is what this restaurant is all about. The toasted French roll crackles on first bite. The savory pork is understated and tasty. Then you have a crisp, fresh snap of cucumber and cilantro. The result is a light, satisfying sandwich that creates such a nice contrast of texture that it puts a smile on your face. It’s not the classic Banh Mi sandwich: there’s no mayo like spread or peppers here. It is a different take on the Banh Mi and a welcome one at that.

Everything seems to take a few extra minutes coming out of the kitchen and the staff often reminds people of that fact. The chef creates everything to order and that precise preparation is apparent on the plate and in the bowl.

The pho is preceded by a simple plate of herbs. At some places in town you get a vast array of stuff to put in the traditional Vietnamese soup. Far East Nashville offers just bean sprouts, a couple of slices of pepper, basil and a wedge of lime. The add-ins are wonderfully fresh and soon the pho arrives in a huge, white bowl. You quickly realize it’s all about the subtle tastes. The delicate broth is lovely without any help at all. The beef is perfectly tender, which is not an easy trick with pho as the hot broth continues cooking the meat as you eat. Half the fun with pho is adding in other ingredients slowly and tasting the new shading in flavor and texture. A little hoisin for a sip and then a squeeze of sriracha. A basil leaf for pop and then some bean sprouts for snap. This is really good pho.

There is a reason that this review is done without the company of the Veggie Eater. The first trip revealed only one or two veggie items on the menu. During that visit a woman could be heard bemoaning that very fact. “There is almost nothing here I can eat,” she exclaimed. I felt her male dining companion’s pain. It’s a frustration I have heard many times, over many years. If you look at it from a percentage standpoint you realize that more than 10 percent of the items are veggie friendly. However, when that is two items you can see the concern. This is East Nashville and Far East Nashville is just the type of restaurant that many vegetarians would love, but they clearly need more options and better labeling.

The prices are reasonable and the staff genuinely friendly. We hesitate to call for more items on that simple menu, however perhaps an addition every now and then would still fit the style and the measured temperament of the restaurant. Far East Nashville is a welcome and intriguing new addition to the ethnic dining options in Nashville. I paid $6 with tax and tip for the sandwich and $11 with tax and tip for the pho.

Update 11/27/10: What better antidote for the post-Thanksgiving blahs than a warm bowl of pho. We landed at Far East Nashville for lunch on Friday. The original review was a Meat Eater only excursion. Now, they have an entire vegetarian section on the growing menu (still rather modest next to the other Vietnamese joints in town.) Green vegetable stir fry; bamboo, mushroom and tofu; and fish sauce grilled eggplant grace the menu.

Veggie Eater: The veggie section of the menu is a welcome addition. My green vegetable stir fry warmed me up on this cold fall day. The greens were slightly bitter and in a mildly hot sauce. The tofu was a happy vehicle to absorb the sauce. Not sure if the fish sauce grilled egg plant (which is listed on the veggie section of the menu) uses a vegetarian fish sauce (there really is such a thing). We inquired about vegetarian pho and were sadly told that efforts to add this menu item have been scrapped in the current space, as the kitchen is simply too small to accommodate completely separated preparation of a veggie version. There is some discussion about perhaps another location being added in the Vandy area and if so, this space would be larger to allow them to add more veggie items, including veggie pho. There are not any veggie apps, but for the fish eaters of the world there is a shrimp fresh roll which is served with a delightfully thick, sweet, and savory peanut sauce. He promises they will be adding more items to the vegetarian menu soon.

Meat Eater: It was good to get back here again. The traditional meat pho broth is still delicate and onion-y and featured nicely seasoned beef balls. The thin noodles are served al dente and are quite good. We paid $30 with tax and tip on this visit.

Far East Nashville on Urbanspoon


ceeelcee said...

Great review Eric! I haven't made it to the Far East yet, but all the reviews I've seen were basically "It sucked!" or "It rocked!"

Thanks for filling in the details.

Lannae said...

Hello! I really appreciate Far East! I love places that do a few things right, and I actually am suspect of places with a huge laundry list of items. I like the simplicity of the decor. I have gone to Far East a few times, enjoyed each visit, and I have not been able to get a good photo of my food (too dim inside) so I have been unable to post yet. But I will!! I just think that this family have done a lot of things right.

Eric and Katie said...

Thanks ceeelcee...yeah, part of the problem may be expectations. If you're looking for a traditional Vietnamese place this isn't it. If you're looking for simple food, well prepared than it works. Lannae: I guess I'm torn about the size of the menu. You certainly can't explore much...perhaps daily specials would help? They definitely need to consider more vegetarian options. Looking forward to your post!

Courtney said...

I'm so happy it's an easy walk from my house, I need to check it out pho sure :-)

Courtney Lee

Anonymous said...

I was sad at the limited supply of veggie items for me, but the waiter told me I could substitute tofu for any of the chicken items. I had the yellow curry with tofu, and the flavor was wonderful. Bring your girl next time.

Eric and Katie said...

Good tip on the tofu substitution anon...thanks for the info!

Vol State Health Sciences Continuing Education said...

Courtney...that's a first for this blog...Vietnamese food puns. Now I can't think of any others that would work...

Anonymous said...

far east blows!

Anonymous said...

I went there on saturday night. The place was packed and there were no tables. I stood in the middle of the restaurant because there was no where else to stand and was totally ignored by the staff the whole time. It would've been nice just to have someone be friendly, but that seemed too much to ask. Not their problem I guess, and it sure won't be mine again either.