“Le Colonial Recreates 1920s Vietnam for Dining Pleasure“
Although France’s colonial empire was quite large in its heyday, Vietnam was one of the few countries in which French culture was so perfectly recreated in this southeast Asian nation. After the French took control in 1888, they modeled cities’ architecture to their tastes along with the food.
I first heard about Le Colonial from a girl I knew who said her fiance had taken her there for a special occasion. The interior of the restaurant was designed to evoke colonial Vietnam, (think Hanoi’s French Quarter), on the streets of Chicago. What can be better than dining in a colonial villa lookalike complete with potted palms and banana trees. The walls were lined with louvered shutters, the ceilings with tasteful looking fans, a scene straight out of a Graham Greene novel. Although Chicago had just experienced its worst blizzard in more than a decade just a few days before we had arrived, the mounds of plowed snow and blisteringly cold temperatures were quickly forgotten as soon as D and I walked through the restaurant’s front doors. It was as if we had been transported to Hanoi, minus the intense humidity and high temperatures Vietnam is so famous for.
Soup such as pho is a good place to start. I had eaten it before (at a hole in the wall Vietnamese restaurant in Pittsburgh) but the pho prepared by Le Colonial was magnifique. Pho, a noodle soup ranging from a form of street food to more glamourous versions in upscale restaurants is one of Vietnam’s most well known dishes. We had planned on splitting an order of it but the restaurant was kind enough to serve it to us in two separate bowls. Even without the adornment of the rice noodles and beef tenderloin slices, the aromatic herbs that had been cooked in the broth offered a tantalizing taste.
For my entree I had ordered the Ga Xao Xa Ot, which when translated means hot chili chicken with ginger and lemongrass. The chicken breasts had been wok seared in lemongrass (an herb found in East Asian cooking), served with portobello mushrooms, and lastly, topped with a basil chili sauce. Although I was a bit apprehensive over ordering a dish that featured the word “chili” in its name, I needn’t have been as the sauce was neither too sweet nor too spicy; it was just right. My only critique is that the mushrooms could have been cut smaller.
D ordered the Banh Pho Xao, which was rice noodles sauteed with soy sauce, bean sprouts, green onions, red peppers, garlic, chili sauce and shrimp. He thoroughly enjoyed his meal and from the small amount I tried I found it delicious as well, although the chili in his dish was spot on in terms of spiciness.
Neither of us are wine drinkers, although the wine list appeared to be quite extensive. D did order a Chinese beer (they had a couple of Chinese beer selections on draft). Unfortunately we both were much too stuffed (and sated) by the end of the meal to even contemplate ordering dessert.
937 North Rush Street