We Found the Holy Grail of Authentic Vietnamese Food
Soft-shell crab, pork spring rolls, flaming beef. OH Yes.
Tucked between a tire shop and nail salon on a busy Northern Virginia street, the restaurant’s owners approach everything with intention– including the restaurants name.
“The present is a gift,” says part owner Gene Nguyen. “I want people to focus on the atmosphere and enjoy the food. That’s why nothing is pre-made. We make everything fresh. The dishes are 100% authentic and purely Vietnamese.”
“That’s important because I don’t think Vietnamese food needs to be fused with anything,” continues Nguyen. “It shouldn’t be altered. We just choose better ingredients, better produce, and better proteins. We choose better so that it tastes better.”
The Vastness of Vietnamese Cuisine
Nguyen is passionate about sharing his knowledge of Vietnamese culture and cuisine. When I was invited to Present Restaurant to try their signature dishes, I was met with knowledgeable servers able to share the origins of each dish.
Compared to other Asian cuisine like Thai food— which can be a mix of sweet, spicy, and flavorful overall– the leading characteristic of Vietnamese food is balance.
Vietnam’s landscape is not wide, its long. Customs and palates differ between the north, south, and central regions.
The northern regions like heavier dishes with lots of salt while the south likes their dishes sweet. The middle regions go for smaller plates that are elegant, light, and clean.
“From street food to family style meals, I’ve grabbed the best dishes from each region,” says Nguyen.
New to Authentic Vietnamese Food? Here’s What to Order at Present Restaurant
Present Restaurant is the perfect platform for a Vietnamese food newbie (me!) who’s only foray into the cuisine has been pha– a popular Vietnamese noodle dish.
The menu is large but organized by dish. There are your standard appetizers, your soups, and rice dishes. The portions are perfect for sharing. Ninety percent of the menu is gluten free– they use fish sauce instead of soy sauce and rice flower instead of wheat flower.
Along with the flavorful food, the service is top notch. Waiters are well trained, they have eaten everything on the menu, and they don’t hate it when you can’t decide what you want to eat.
If you’ve never had Vietnamese food, start with the autumn rolls (filled with pork and shrimp and carrots and fried to crispy perfection). Next, order up the flaming beef. In Vietnam meat is hard to find. So when one has it, it is marinated it for a long time. Present's beef is served on a plank of wood with a controlled fire underneath. It arrives to the table hot, fresh, and fragrant.
Enjoy special prices during Falls Church Restaurant week at the end of this month.
Photography by Guyen Enkh.