We take on the Windy City
Our adventure began with a disappointing lunch at a downtown restaurant. With recent research and rave reviews read, we thought we were in for a special treat. However the story ended in “I can’t believe this!” Even though it didn’t fulfill our palates, the staff were incredibly nice and knowledgeable.
Full from all the water we just chugged trying to save ourselves from sodium poisoning from the salt bomb we just endured, we headed back to the hotel. We had to take a nap (not from food coma), but from the long driving trip we just made prior to lunch. Upon wakening we were hangry and in need of food!
We started our search for our favorite go-to dish, the popular Vietnamese noodle soup, the almighty bowl of “pho.” It’s Friday night and now 7:45 p.m., the oh-so-handy Google Maps came to the rescue! Search “Pho by me,” pulls up 3 locations, the closest location was about to close so we went with the next nearest location. A quick view of the available photos, we were sold in getting to this place. A 9 minute walk, according to the Google Maps app, we headed off to Le Colonial on Rush Street, a restaurant serving Vietnamese cuisine with a French Colonial spirit. With the cold wind, we bristly made it there in 7 minutes.
Starving with no reservation (I do not recommend you to do this with any restaurant) we arrived to a full house. We entered a low dim lit entrance, before entering into an ambiance of glowing lit candles on tables. The hostess asked if we had reservations (Oops! Big no-no) and we didn’t, she tells us to wait while she is roaming the house with her eyes in search of someone then walks away.
Were we just completely ignored?
We were definitely not ignored, but actually being serviced immediately. In walks the owner, or perhaps the manager all suited with class approaching us. With his accent, “Your table right there, after they done, they pay, you will sit here.”
Sa-weet! Within 10 minutes we were seated, we didn’t even get a chance to take in all the decor and layout of the place. We were given an overwhelming dinner menu because everything on it read like a “must-try” dish! First and foremost what we came for, we ordered the Pho made along with 3 appetizers. Upon finishing our order, the waiter asks,
“Will you be splitting the pho? We can provide it in separate bowls.” (How did he know?!)
He then proceeds to ask in what order we would like our food to arrive,
“All at once if possible,” I bashfully exclaimed.
How was all that going to fit on our little table of two? I don’t recall the wait for food to arrive, but it couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes. We were so busy taking in the scenery and doing some people watching. First to arrive, our separate soup bowls of Pho and Banh Cuon. The next server comes in with the Bo Nuong and Banh Uot. Yes, our table was full, but truly impressed with the servers technique of fitting everything to the “Tee” before us like professional engineers with skills on space usage.
The ox tail pho broth was breathtaking. The clear broth with the glistening oil droplets on top from ox tails rendering all day was waiting for us to arrive. The scent was an herbal delight with subtle scent of star anise. PV and I locked eyes and both just stared at each other in shock from the flavor explosion that was taking place in our mouths…and this was just the beginning. The beef tenderloins was succulent and melted when it hit your mouth, the noodles perfectly dense and textured. It was served with condiments on the side in a small tray to sweeten or spice up your broth to your liking.
We had no beginning since the dishes arrived all at once. The familiar scent of lime with fish sauce was noticed immediately on the Banh Cuon. The ending hint of garlic was graceful and reminded me of home. It was like a Vietnamese spring roll, but placed into a large ravioli shaped rice noodle. (Sorry, I couldn’t wait, the picture shows a during image of the dish.) The flavors of this dish with the mushrooms is exactly how I remember spring rolls from vendors in Vietnamese Town. The Ban Nuong dish had a sweeter and lighter fare of sauce and drizzled within the bed of salad beneath the beef filled rice rolls making the presentation worthy. I ended up mixing all the ingredients and making myself a small version of a chop salad.
The very last dish, the Bo Nuong, was my first experience with papaya salad being served this way. It was my favorite of all appetizers on our table. The only thing I can think of ever coming close to this before is when I run out of space on my plate and pile my steak next to my papaya salad during our summer cookouts. Le Colonial’s Bo Nuong is grilled beef shortrib on top of papaya salad, with two crunchy shrimp chips (possibly shrimp flavor), that was a bonus for the dish. I could’ve eaten a whole bag of these chips. The papaya salad was served with enough heat to still be called spicy and being a lover of spicy, I could’ve asked for more heat, but wanted it to be served how everyone else would receive it. It was a good call, plus PV doesn’t do well with spicy foods.
What you should know?
I am not at all a culinary professional and these opinions are solely based on my own pallet. The Pho was split and it wasn’t the portion size we were used to so order a whole bowl for yourself to experience this, I wish we did! The appetizer portions were great in size as they are appetizers. They definitely were not like the usual restaurant appetizers where at times the portion is so grand they could be considered a main course. So order up a variety of appetizers, you won’t be disappointed as you’ll still have room for desert. Try the Vietnamese coffee, so very delightful and calming. It reminded me of my childhood days of us siblings blowing into the can to get the sweetened condensed milk out. Back then it was an occasional special treat for us. Le Colonial was a true diamond find in the hustle and bustle on a very busy Friday evening. They know how to treat everyone that walks through their doors. It is now my “must eat” place when I return to the Windy City.
Thank you summary
I wish I was able to meet the Chef of Le Colonial, but with the full house on a Friday night, I just didn’t feel right to ask him or her to come out to give my thanks. Whoever you are Chef, my belly is pleased and mighty thankful. To the wonderful staff at Le Colonial, I am overly grateful and appreciative of your service and the quality of care you’ve given us by accommodating our last minute adventure to find Pho. Thank you from this foodie!
– Anna MV
Le Colonial, 937 N. Rush St., Chicago, IL 60611 (312) 255-0088 Full Dinner Menu