Sunday, Apr 21st

The Vibrant Dishes of Vietnam at Vietnam's Central in Scarsdale

vietnamscentralBalance between sweet and salty, fresh and fermented, cooling and warming, with hints of mint, cilantro, lemongrass and fish sauce.... Yes, I'm describing the vibrant cuisine of Vietnam as prepared at the new Vietnam's Central in Scarsdale. Our local Westchester communities offer a vast array of international restaurant choices. When it comes to Vietnamese cuisine the choices are not too great. How joyful it was to note the new Vietnam's Central which recently opened on Central Avenue in Scarsdale at the site of the former Pagoda Restaurant.

I was warmly greeted by the gracious owner and Chef Tuong Bui, aka Tom. The space, which seats about 70, is simply decorated with leather booths, banquettes and free standing tables. Bamboo screens, a tin ceiling, light wood floors and sheer white curtains give the room a clean, light appearance. There are no distractions as you concentrate on the terrific dishes offered. Tom describes his restaurant as eccentric and unique: "My menu combines traditional and creative dishes. In the future, I hope to open other similar dining spots." Owner Tuong Bui learned his craft from his mother and his brothers, who own restaurants in Dallas. Tuong moved on to Tribeca and most recently to Scarsdale. "I like the space in Westchester. It is not as congested as the city. My mother's instruction was hands on. She would let me cook on Sundays. She would give me the ingredients and I honed my skills under her guiding hands and I learned to cook our very diverse cuisine."

At Vietnam's Central Tom works with his wife Kim Doan and his sister in law Nhu Doan. "We do not overcook our food, and we use many raw vegetables. Our meats are cooked medium rare. Everything is cooked to order so we can adjust the spicing or eliminate ingredients upon our guest's requests. Most important is treating our guests well. My favorite part of my work is meeting many people and observe them enjoying their experience here." When asked whom he would like to serve, his answer was "Angelina Jolie and Richard Gere. They are both very successful in their careers and use their money to help people around the world."

van spring rollOur tasting was a selection of many dishes which first appealed to our eyes, then to our sense of smell and finally to our taste. Our exceptional starters included Van Spring Rolls. A rice paper wrapper encased mixed greens, a choice of chicken, beef, shrimp or tofu with lemon zest and a sweet orange sauce. It is a favorite of Tom's child Van. Exceptional lemon shrimp followed. The large shrimp were lightly breaded and fried and served with a house made lemon sauce. Lemon zest and the white part of the lemon beneath the skin lent a mild, smooth and very lemony taste. We cleansed our palate with a lovely calamari and avocado salad. A creamy mild avocado sauce acted as the base for mixed spring greens layered with lightly breaded fried rings of calamari. A light vinaigrette completed this refreshing salad.

Among the soups, the classic "pho" is a specialty of the house. Here, it is prepared with a broth that simmers with beef bones for 8-10 hours. Rice noodles, cilantro, onions and scallions add flavor and a choice of chicken, shrimp, beef or pork are offered. The dish is garnished with bean sprouts, basil and lime. The summer day of our visit reached in the mid nineties so we will sample this flavorful bowlful on a cooler day. Hot and sour soup and chili noodle soup are other options.

A starter of catfish mango was quite delicious and is only offered when green mango is available. The catfish filet is lightly breaded and fried in canola oil. Topping the fish is a chopped mixture of green mango, cilantro, shallots and chili sauce, creating a perky and delicious dish. The Vietnam's ribs were a favorite. As you pick up the sesame seed encrusted ribs, be sure to keep your plate beneath them, as the succulent meat will surely fall right off the bone and into the plate. Served with pickled daikon and cucumber they were a taste to behold. A future visit may include Vietnamese beef carpaccio marinated in lime juice with crushed peanuts or charbroiled pork and fried shrimp rolls that are assembled at the table.

From the entrees, we sampled the grilled marinated pork chop. The marination on the pork brings out flavors of honey and lemongrass. Salt and pepper calamari served on a bed of iceberg lettuce was another fine choice. Sautéed with onions and scallions and generously seasoned, it was tasty and simple.

stir fried noodle chickenVietnam is an important exporter of rice and we enjoyed their jasmine variety. In Vietnam, rice appears at every meal in the form of rice noodles, rice paper, sticky rice or fried rice. We loved the jasmine fried rice with vegetables and chicken. Unlike Vietnam's Chinese neighbors, no soy sauce is used in this dish. Stir fried egg noodles with a variety of crisp, lightly cooked vegetables was a dish of many textures. Rather than pouring it over all of the noodles, the homemade sauce should be used as a dipping sauce in order to savor the many levels of taste. Yet to be tried are the many vegetarian choices. Tofu in the flavor of shrimp, beef, fish or chicken is available in many dishes. Even the pho can be prepared in a vegetarian manner. Everything here is prepared to ensure freshness.

Desserts include a Vietnamese version of caramel flan with a caramelized coffee syrup, halo with ice cream and nuts, evaporated milk on shaved ice and an intriguing taro pudding. This coconut flavored taro confection was served warm and topped with crushed peanuts. It was truly a dessert soup, soothing and unique.

Whether you are a veteran of Vietnamese cuisine or a newcomer, I believe you will find your dining experience at Vietnam's Central very pleasant. Owner Tuong Bui indicated that his singular goal is "to leave you wanting for more." For me, his goal was fulfilled, as I plan to return very soon.

Vietnam's Central
694 Central Park Avenue
914 723 7222


Vietnamese Salt and Pepper Shrimp {Serves 2}

salt pepper shrimpIngredients:
1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 scallion cut into knuckle sized slices
1 onion cut into small wedges
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup canola oil
Salt and crushed black pepper to taste
¼ ounce butter
Lettuce in small wedges

Wash and dry shrimp and lightly dip in flour. Heat oil in wok or skillet. Stir fry onions and scallions. Add shrimp and stir fry until golden. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper to taste. Drain off excess oil. Toss in butter until it melts and mingles with the ingredients. Serve with lettuce wedges.

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