Thursday, April 29, 2010


If you like the vibrant flavors of Vietnamese cuisine, hip decor, and exploring new restaurants, it's worth checking out XANH. Winner of four awards on OpenTable (hot spot, most booked, vibrant bar scene, and Vietnamese cuisine), XANH offers a flavorful and fashionable culinary adventure you won't soon forget. The restaurant achieves its goal to "fuse the culinary traditions of Vietnam with modern aesthetics and complexities."

XANH, which means 'green' in Vietnamese (I love Google Translator on my iGoogle page), also boasts the Michelin Bib Gourmand designation. Located on the eclectic and electric ethnic Castro Street in Mountain View, XANH offers a completely different world for your senses the minute you set foot inside. Decorated in soothing blues with thoroughly modern decor, hypnotic background music and traditional Vietnamese motifs, the restaurant immediately creates an intriguing and inviting ambiance.

As it should be, the food is what's most compelling. As servers bring out dishes for fellow diners, it's fun to see what others order. The biggest challenge is choosing what to have off the lengthy menu. We finally settled on these dishes:

kobe roll marinated beef, rice noodles, fresh lettuce, cilantro, carrots, cucumber, and roasted peanuts | served with nuoc cham vinaigrette

papaya salad poached shrimp, green papaya, carrots, cu cai trang, sliced mango, cilantro, mint, caramelized shallot | served with roasted peanuts and nuoc cham vinaigrette

bun thit nuong choice of sautéed beef, grilled pork, or grilled shrimp | with rice noodles, sliced cucumber, sliced green apples, cilantro, mint, carrots, and crispy shallots | served with shrimp cracker, roasted peanuts, and nuoc cham vinaigrette

XANH shrimp cakes minced shrimp and chicken, glass noodles, carrots, and garlic atop toasted bread | served with lightly spiced vinaigrette | servings of four or six pieces

XANH full moon wraps™ four baby rice crêpes stuffed with shrimp, bean sprouts, white and green onions | served with lettuce, sliced mango and fresh herbs

My favorite dish was the XANH full moon wraps. Everything comes piled on crispy green bib lettuce leaves, with a little dish of sweet sauce to drizzle over before rolling it all up in the lettuce and taking that first incredible bite. The melding of crisp, crunchy, sweet, and sour ingredients works beautifully together, like a symphony's crescendo sending chills up your spine. Eyes widen, pupils dilate, the heartbeat quickens, and salivary glands go into overdrive. It's one of those dishes I could easily develop a craving for, pulling me back for more addictive delight.

I also greatly enjoyed the kobe roll and bun thit nuong, which our server assembled quietly yet dramatically for us at the table. The papaya salad gave a wonderfully crisp and clean start to the meal. The shrimp cakes were my least favorite dish. While I enjoyed the interesting flavors (did I detect cinnamon?) and the stylish European fusion (the cakes came atop a circle of toast), it didn't quite work as well overall.

We saw so many other wonderful dishes that our fellow diners seemed to enjoy, all with beautiful presentation and a bit of drama (look out for the dry ice!). It's one of those places that draws me back to try out all the dishes that wouldn't fit in my stomach the first time. I think that's a mark of great menu design and food: describe and offer dishes so mouthwatering and enticing that diners return to try out more things and tell their friends about it. Next time I want to try:

lucky egg noodles (mi xao don) chicken, shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, baby bok choy, baby corn, and white onions upon a bed of golden crispy egg noodles

crab martini fresh crab claw meat, mixed bell peppers, avocado and other fresh herbs

ahi tuna tartare spicy ahi tuna, cucumber, avocado | served with wonton chips

tamarind prawns sauteed jumbo prawns on a lake of tamarind sauce

Ahh yes, I must go back soon to get my fix...the crave-worthy full moon wraps and other delectables await....

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