A sauce that got my goat at Viet's Restaurant
In A Federal Case, I'll be eating my way up Federal Boulevard -- south to north -- within Denver city limits. I'll be skipping the national chains and per-scoop Chinese joints, but otherwise I'll report from every vinyl booth, walk-up window and bar stool where food is served. Here's the report on this week's stop...
On a search for the best Asian restaurants along Federal Boulevard, the Far East Center is like the grand finale of the fireworks show. There may be one or two Chinese or mixed Asian joints north of Alameda, but the buildup has already happened over the past couple of blocks, and this is where everything goes off with a bang all at once: banh mi torpedoes, volleys of dim sum, whole roasted duck in red lacquered armor, fat pork buns, seafood platters, pho by the vat, market-priced lobster specials, boba smoothies, simmering hotpots, almond cookies, every possible cut of beef, pork, lamb, goat, quail, squid, jellyfish...and a moment's rest to sip a coffee and pay the bill before waddling back to the car from any of a half dozen or so Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants, bakeries and delis that guard the fortress walls of this miniature citadel. And that doesn't even take into account the grocery stores and markets where you can stock up on favorite ingredients and cooking utensils in case you want to do it all over again in the comfort of your home kitchen. This is the territory that Viet's Restaurant occupies, wedged into a corner spot, but definitely not overlooked.
Viet's looks exactly like every other moderately successful Vietnamese restaurant along Federal: tile floors from the Home Depot sale aisle; tables and chairs that might have been labeled "contemporary" at a furniture warehouse any time over the past twenty years; a jumble of red and gold knickknacks, bamboo plants and mismatched light fixtures. Even the menu starts with a familiar list of noodle soups, grilled meat plates with rice or noodles, and various rolls in raw or fried form. I chose stuffed chicken wings from that list of appetizers -- a dish I've seen on a few menus but not with the same frequency as shrimp spring rolls or even shrimp paste skewers. Those wings didn't last long as Amy and I clashed chopsticks, fighting for the best pieces: those with the perfect ratio of sweet and crackling skin, tender wing meat and sausage stuffing reminiscent of the pork flavors available at Gio Cha Cali, only more loosely packed and boldly seasoned.
Mark Antonation The owners of all Vietnamese restaurants in town shop at Home Depot.
Bone-in chicken wings are a bar-snack standard, not just because they're easy to prepare but because the bones add flavor and help keep the meat moist. But crumbled sausage laced with pork fat and seasoned with fish sauce makes up for any flavor and juice lost when the bones are removed before cooking. Viet's wings could veer toward French fussiness if they didn't have that tail-gate goodness that would be just as satisfying on a paper plate in a Midwestern football stadium parking lot.
Viet's -- like a few other top Vietnamese shops in town -- distinguishes itself further with its list of house specials. We opted for a goat hotpot and added a plate of pork ribs with pineapple, which was entirely too much food for two people -- as our waitress warned us. I'm always up for that kind of challenge, though, even if it means an extra-heavy take-home bag at the end of the night.
Mark Antonation No bones about it, these wings are stuffed with flavor.
The pork rib dish arrived first, giving us a chance to enjoy the subtle sweet-and-sour stir-fry and chewy pork (cooked to less tenderness than the American palate typically prefers) before the hot pot showed up demanding our full attention.