One year ago, Nam-Viet opened its doors with a party hosted by Steve Shaw, a lifetime resident of Alexandria. The restaurant celebrated its first anniversary on Mount Vernon Ave. the same way. Shaw invited over 150 of his friends to sample the Vietnamese cuisine that he and his family love so much.
“We were so thrilled when Mr. Thoi opened his restaurant here in Alexandria,” Shaw said at the party last week. “The location is great: close to Washington; on Mount Vernon Avenue, an area that is up and coming; near shopping and most of all near us. I have known Mr. Thoi for many years and we went to his restaurants on Connecticut Avenue [in Washington, D.C.] and in Clarendon before this one opened. We need to let more people know that he is here and just how good the food is.”
Shaw has no financial interest in the restaurant, “just in good food,” he said.
THE MENU IS VARIED, including fish, beef, chicken, pork and vegetarian dishes. For the adventurous, there is also always one quail delicacy. The menu includes 12 soups in addition to the variety of main dishes. The flavors are light but interesting, using combinations of spices that only the chef, Tran Ngoc Anh, Thoi’s wife, can make work.
“Vietnamese food is very low calorie,” Thoi said. “Vietnamese people don’t like fat. In Vietnam, the markets open at around 5 a.m. and the Vietnamese people are there looking for the leanest cuts of meat and the freshest fish. We sauté many things but do not fry very many,” Thoi said.
Many of the vegetarian dishes include tofu — sautéed tofu, baked tofu and stir fried tofu. “Many people in Vietnam eat only vegetables,” Thoi said. “Tofu is very good for you.”
As the chef, Tran is very particular about all of the dishes. “She does not cook a dish until it is ordered,” Thoi said. “In many restaurants, the chef makes dishes ahead of time and re-heats them when they are ordered. My wife does not because she wants every dish to be fresh and perfect. That’s one of the things that makes Nam-Viet different.” When it comes to desserts, Thoi himself is the chef. He prepares Vietnamese flan and bananas flambé with rum sauce or ice-cream.
“My wife makes everything except sweets,” Thoi said. “They are my specialty.”
Nam-Viet is located at 3819 Mount Vernon Ave., in an Arlandria neighborhood that is emerging as a “place to go” more slowly than the southern end of the street. The southern end of Mount Vernon Avenue is pedestrian friendly, and is home to the most outdoor dining in Alexandria. While business at Nam-Viet has been okay, it has not been great.
“It’s not quite as easy to walk around in this neighborhood yet,” Shaw said. “Parking isn’t quite as easy although Mr. Thoi does have parking at the restaurant. I think that a lot of people just don’t come to this part of Mount Vernon Avenue as much and don’t know he’s here.”
Thoi agreed. “I guess people just don’t know we are here yet,” he said. “The other two restaurants are doing great but we are having some difficulty getting people to come in. We want to be part of the community and are willing to work with community groups do to fundraisers and hold other events. We like it here and want to stay,” he said.
The restaurant is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.