Sunday, March 7, 2010

Kien Giang

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Kien Giang
5825 Charlotte Pike

Kien Giang was one of the first Vietnamese restaurants we visited in Nashville, and we really enjoyed it. Once the blog got going we were so intent on hitting new spots we didn’t get back, until just recently. All of this is a shame, because Kien Giang serves wide range of Vietnamese specialties, and the legions of loyal regulars can attest to the quality.
Pho and banh mi are a good way to get a feel for any Vietnamese joint. The Kien Giang Pho Tai is rare steak with a rice noodle soup. The light broth has good flavor and the noodles are tender. The steak really isn’t rare anymore, probably in part due to the hot soup. It’s a decent pho and the sides and sauces make it a satisfying lunch. At $4.95 for a small bowl that’s actually pretty big, it’s one of the better deals in town. The barbecue pork in the Banh Mi Thit Nuong is a savory foil to the crisp onions and cucumber. The French bread crust nearly snaps at first bite, providing a range of textures and lovely tastes for an excellent sandwich. At $2.75 it may be one of the best bargain sandwiches in Nashville.
Banh Xeo Chay features two super thin and crispy egg pancakes filled with tofu, bean sprouts, onions and carrots. The fun is using huge fresh lettuce leaves to scoop up parts of the pancake and then dipping the whole thing in a special fish sauce. It’s crunchy, savory and sweet all at once.
Mi Xao Don throws just about everything into the stir fry: beef, chicken, pork, scallops, shrimp and octopus. In retrospect something is going to get lost in cooking and while the chicken and beef do well, some of the seafood is a bit chewy. The wonderful brown sauce is blazing hot in terms of temperature and this may be part of the issue. The crispy fried egg noodles are a great accompaniment. In one bite they are like wontons, and when bathed in brown sauce take on a more traditional noodle texture.
Veggie Eater: I don’t believe the first time we venture here years ago that there was a veggie menu, but there is now. That’s a real bonus, so you don’t have to worry about stealthy meat ingredients. I opted for the stir fried lemongrass tofu. It is served with a heaping mound of rice. The tofu is firm, cut into triangles, and cooked in a ginger lemongrass sauce. The sauce is both salty and slightly sweet. Dried pepper flakes are liberally sprinkled to provide some heat. It is garnished with pickled cucumbers and carrots for some additional texture. What I love about Vietnamese restaurants is the sheer variety of condiments. I am happy to report that on this visit, I did not use any of them as I was happy with my food as is. Be sure to check out the artwork while visiting; it’s a little odd and will certainly give you pause for thought.
Meat Eater: A lunch visit finds one waitress working the packed room of 35 or more diners effectively. Her incredible skill is not matched by the young gentleman working a weekend shift. Luckily he’s quite nice, it’s not crowded yet and hot tea keeps us entertained. The d├ęcor is utilitarian at best. Keep an eye out for your table number, because you’ll need it to pay at the front counter. And heaven help you if you try and pay by credit card- they only do cash and checks.
We paid $28 with tax, tip for two entrees, a large appetizer and tea. For pho, banh mi and a coke I paid $11 with tax and tip.
Kien Giang on Urbanspoon


yazzwho said...

Eric, you mention that the "french bread crust nearly snaps"..

Do you mean by that, that the bread is very very crunchy? Like stale bread that has been toasted perhaps one too many times? The sort of bread that sends a shower of crumbs straight into your lap?

I ask only since I patronized another establishment you have reviewed and their Bahn Mi has a crust that was positively awful as in the description above. My mouth was actually sore from the shards of petrified crust. I took myself directly to the dry cleaner and got into the machine fully clothed to gain some sense of relief.

I was so looking forward to a nice toothsome crust of a freshly baked loaf of bread to go with the interesting ingredients.

Eric and Katie said...

yazzwho: that's a good question. No, it's kind of the opposite of crunchy. The banh mi bread seems similar to good po boy bread (like Gambino's) where there is a crispy and very thin crust to the bread with a soft interior. That snap comes from the french bread shell and it all melts in your mouth. Yes, I could see stale bread being a real problem...especially if someone is toasting it to death to try and keep it edible. yuck.

yazzwho said...

Well then I'll give it a try. Right next door to Lucky Bamboo no less~~!

Eric and Katie said...

It's restaurant crazy over there now...Miss Saigon, Lucky Bamboo and Kien Giang. And it's always nice to peruse produce and stuff at K&S grocery after lunch.

Lannae said...

We like the char grilled pork vermicelli, char park banh mi, and the shrimp pancakes. We really really like these things the best here over other Vietnamese restaurants we have tried in town. I like the fresh spring rolls. I personally don't like the "Chinese" style stir fried foods like the chicken dishes. In my opinion, the cheaper the dish is (like the banh mi) the more I like it!

yazzwho said...

WHICH brings up another hot button topic - for me.

Where in this town (besides Fulin's) can you get a plate of Chow Fun??

On a regular menu, not weekends or some special occasion???

Between Chow Fun and Char Siu Bao I don't which I carve the most.