Pico and La Cienega has gradually transitioned from dull intersection to urban destination for creative individuals.
First there was the opening of the beautiful Pearl Arts & Craft store, then Mood Designer Fabric shop (made famous by Project Runway), and now the sublime Vien Café, created by co-owners Helen Kim and Paul Kim who also own the popular Indochine Vien in Atwater Village. Yes, the famous-but-hard-to-find Banh Mi has arrived in Mid-City and this chic Vietnamese restaurant, galvanizing the area as an essential L.A. destination, ensures that Mid-City residents no longer have to travel to San Gabriel Valley or Orange County for authentic Vietnamese fare. For the uninitiated the Banh Mi is a unique French-Indo sandwich served on large, soft homemade baguettes, with a base of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro, jalapeno pepper, marinate carrots, radish and your choice of marinated meat.
Banh Mi is just the beginning of Vien Café’s many virtues. Aficionados know the country’s cuisine has its own distinct flavors stemming from a blend of native and French cultures. In sitting down at the café’s pet-friendly outdoor tables, with the late afternoon sun streaming down Pico, my party found taste-treat after taste-treat.
We started with shrimp and fresh vegetable spring rolls delicately wrapped in Vietnamese rice paper. We followed it with Banh Xeo a crepe made from mung bean and coconut batter filled with chicken, shrimp, sauteed onions and wrapped around bean sprouts. Helen showed us how to take portions of the crepe, wrap them in the lettuce and mint and dip in the sour dipping sauce. Soooo good! I followed this with the simple classic hearty Pho Tai a delicious beef broth with rice noodles and slivers of rare steak. while my dining partner went with the Vegetarian Pho, rice noodles served in a vegetable broth and loaded with strips of fried tofu, black mushrooms and carrots, garnished with green onions, bean sprouts, jalapeno peppers, lime and aromatic Vietnamese basil. She took half of it home and called me the next day just to tell me how delicious it was cold. Everything was perfectly prepared and available in several fragrant variations. There were many other special ingredients too, such as jasmine rice plates with beef, pork or chicken. Vegans will be delighted by the very health-conscious menu, including stir-fry brown rice noodle dishes and tofu spring rolls (Goi Cuon). The killer-on-my-plate though was the Crispy Vietnamese Apple Fritter with vanilla ice cream. I will grow old gladly knowing a free serving is available on birthdays. Over 35 fine entrees and appetizers appear on the extensive menu, all cooked to order, substitutes possible and all based on traditional Vietnamese recipes from Paul and Helen’s family. The phrase “Blissful eating” comes to mind as we savored the elegant tastes and visual delights at this fine cafe.
“Like” the Vien Café on Facebook for a 10% discount coupon.
Vien Café, 6118 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 651-2888, Sun.-Thurs. 11:30 am – 10 pm; Fri.&Sat 11:30 am – 11 pm; closed Mondays.