Pan-Asian Appeal

Pan-Asian Appeal

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Mostly Vietnamese Fare Delights Visitors

“I try to make it in at least once a week,” the man at table next to ours told me when I noted that this clearly wasn’t his first visit to Sandra Rice and Noodles.

He’s in good company. Brother and sister Sang and Ha Nguyen opened the place (named for their niece) in April. Since then, they have been building an enthusiastic clientele with their scratch cooking and ambiance that will have you rethinking any other place you might have called “friendly.”

The Food

Vietnamese dishes make up the better part of the menu, but offerings deviate into Chinese and Thai, and even into buffalo chicken with a wrap sandwich.

My guest and I started with Vietnamese lettuce wraps ($4.95), scooping up warm, sweet bits of chicken and bell pepper with crisp lettuce leaves.

Beef salad ($8,25) was a straightforward plate of lettuce, thin-sliced beef and sauteed onions. And then there was the dressing — a heavenly vinaigrette with flavors of sesame oil and lime, and the saltiness of fish sauce.

From the “traditional Vietnamese rice dishes” section of the menu, my guest ordered a lemongrass-marinated pork chop ($6,25) that had him in raptures with its light falvor and uncommon tenderness. Served with it? Rice and a steamed crab cake made with vermicelli, crab, ground pork, egg and black mushroom.

Our server recommended the sweet and sour soup, and she owns the place, so I ordered a bowl with shrimp ($10.95). The faintly sour broth was dotted with chile oil and held a bounty of shrimp as well as pineapple, celery, red bell peppers and cilantro. I ate it with rice — and significant zest.

I was surprised to see a selection of pies on the menu for dessert. Vietnamese desserts, Sang told us, were not sweet enough for the local palate. When a customer asked for pie, Sang accomodated, and further requests led to a menu of a half-dozen or so.

Sang whips up a mean crust, and my guest and I were happy to not that his apple and pumpkin pies ($3.50 a slice) weren’t overly sweet. Old habits die hard, I guess, and good thing.

The Service

The restaurant is small enough that Ha handles the floor while her brother mans the kitchen. She’s a small woman who warms the whole room, calling out greetings to customers as soon as they make it through the door (and appearing to know a good many of them). She met our sometimes confused looks with explanations of dishes (or how best to navigate them). Despite being busy, she seemed always near and ever-pleasant.

The Atmosphere

Customers in the restaurant furthered the familial air by talking across the small, warmly and tastefully decorated room.

Next Time

Maybe the pan-fried sole in ginger sauce or, if I’m in time for the $4.95 lunch special (11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.), I’ll give the lemongrass chicken a whirl.

The Price

$52 for two people, including tax and tip, and that’s only because we over-ordered and because I chose one of only two dishes on the menu to top $8. Nothing was overpriced, and $6.25 for the pork chop induced feelings of guilt.

Source: Indianapolis Star, 11-23-2007, Traci Cumbay

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