“One thing leads to another…” – as the popular 80’s song goes. When I was doing my multiple visits for the last restaurant review, I had a conversation with some diners next to me, and having found out about my food blog, they recommended Banana Blossom Bistro located in the heart of Riverdale, MD. A couple of months later, I drove by there on my way to a fave eatery and spotted it. The next day, I paid the first of a couple of visits. Entering its doors, the space was ample and looked recently renovated with lots of windows to allow a flood of natural light. After placing my order, I took a sip of the Fizzy Lemonade. It was the perfect drink for late spring with its high citrus juice content, medium-low sweetness, and the slight dizzy pop of fizziness.
No trip is made to a Vietnamese establishment without trying their famous appetizers. Since summer was around the corner, I ordered the Summer Rolls. The rolls were properly made with lettuce, rice noodles, boiled shrimp and slices of pork. The sauce was a nice mixture of home-made-tasting sweet sauce, chili paste, and peanuts. The bite was properly made but it could have done with some nice aromatic herbs like basil or mint, and I found the wrapping skin a bit too chewy – the owner confessed to me that making them fresh with a softer wrap was a challenge for the moment, which is a shame. However, the Spring Rolls were a vegetarian delight with a filling made with vegetables and the rare use of taro root which added a certain unctuousness. The side sauce mixture was a balanced mixture of fish sauce, garlic, sugar, and lime juice which made it the obligatory and perfect partner to these fried rolls.
Banh Mi was an order for a certain day’s visit. This sandwich is another litmus test of a veritable Vietnamese joint, and my choice of protein that day was pork. The meat was tender, tasting savory from a marinate of Maggi sauce (de rigeur), and slightly charred with a tolerable hint of sweet. The meat was well accompanied by its usual accruements – well-marinated crunchy carrot radish pickles, batons of cucumber, herbaceous cilantro, all encapsulated by a bread that was crusty on the outside and airy in the middle, but possessing more body than the usual baguette that reminded me of Italian ciabatta. The light slathering of mayonnaise added additional richness as well as some moisture that made this sandwich so devour-able.
Another favorite dish, especially for warmer weather, is Bun Noodle Salad, and my choice was made with grilled lemongrass beef. The whole bowl was replete with the carrot radish pickles, lettuce, mint, cucumber, tomato, crispy beansprouts, all sitting on a mound of rice vermicelli that was cooked just right. But the obvious star in this dish was the beef that had the lemongrass aroma, tasting charred from some time on the grill, and quite “beefy” as it was the flank cut that usually exudes lots of flavor. The fish sauce mixture was the perfect to bring all these elements together with its salt, sweet, and spice elements. Full-flavored grilled beef on light summer veggie goodies – it can’t get any better.
Another visit called for trying one of its grilled meat rice dishes – Grilled Shrimp. The dish was made a la carte at the order counter with the guest calling out the various elements to be placed on the plate. The rice dish arrived with the chosen elements and the grilled shrimps. One bite into the shellfish pointed towards a fresh ingredient that was not overcooked, charred from a some time on the grill, but a bit too one-note for me with just salt as its seasoning – perhaps some white pepper would have added some more interest. However, the Saigon sauce was an excellent enhancer with its soy, lime juice, and sesame oil notes that made it sip-able. The sides were decent and fresh, including the banana blossom salad that was quite interesting with its unique mild crunch and flavor moistened by that fish sauce mixture.
No review of a Vietnamese eatery is complete without savoring its Pho Noodle Soup. My bowl arrived brimming with all its usual elements. The beef was lean and of good quality, accompanied by the sweet onions, rice noodles, fragrant cilantro and green onions, and a side plate of the usual hot peppers, beansprouts, and basil leaves. The liaison was the soup that tasted quite beefy and a hint of sweet onions and wood spices. There was really nothing to fault here but its balance of proportion; there was just too much noodles compared to the meat. I couldn’t finish the noodles (quite rare) and I was searching for more pieces of that quality meat to go with each slurp. But other than that quibble, it was a proper bowl of pho.
Banana Blossom Bistro is a breath of fresh air, cuisine-wise, in an area which desperately needs that sort of injection. The dishes here pointed to authentic fare with the flavors that were well-calibrated and full-bodied, from the tasty summer rolls and spring rolls, to the well-made Banh Mi sandwich, the beefy Bun Noodle Salad, the sauces that added flavor to the Grilled Shrimp, and the tasty bowl of noodle soup, albeit a bit out of balance. No wonder the place was quite busy on a visit with what appears to be devoted locals. But with food this good, this place should be shared with others beyond its immediate surroundings.
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