Our so-called Chinatown—actually home to numerous types of Asian restaurants—has long been a breeding ground for some of the Valley’s most interesting, innovative and fun restaurants. The latest place to get local foodies buzzing is a Vietnamese-inspired, pan-Asian restaurant, District One Kitchen & Bar. The relative newcomer is in a shopping center on Jones Boulevard that also houses popular restaurants such as China Mama, Shaanxi Gourmet, Chada Thai and Ramen Tatsu. It’s a large space with urban, industrial decor.
District One is the brainchild of Khai Vu, who emigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam with his family at the age of 11, and who has for more than 20 years helped family members operate the popular Pho So 1. With District One, Vu says he wants to create a comfortable space where people can hang out, socialize, drink and dine.
The menu offers a number of shareable small plates, many of which are heavily seasoned in a bar-food style that makes them the perfect accompaniment to an alcoholic beverage. The bar offers almost 30 beers from around the world, nearly 40 wines (16 by the glass), a solid Japanese whiskey selection and some truly original specialty cocktails. There are also two pretty amazing weekday happy hours from 3 to 6 p.m. and again from midnight to 3 a.m. that include $1 oysters—probably the best oyster deal in town. And the restaurant is open until 3 a.m. every day.
The printed menu is only a single page. It features about a dozen appetizers, including edamame in Chinese XO sauce, Vietnamese spring rolls and a lotus root salad. The selection of rice dishes includes a five-spice Cornish hen and pork belly in coconut juice with egg over jasmine rice. There’s a nice selection of seafood, including crawfish, shrimp, clams and crabs that you shuck yourself (a holdover from the days when the space was a restaurant called Cravin’ Cajun). A blackboard on the wall features a rotating selection of fresh seafood based on what the chef is able to secure live on any given day. And there are eight different styles of pho, and seemingly endless combinations.
But if you want a real taste of Vietnamese cooking, try the delicious beef and lemongrass wrapped in betel leaves, or the equally good patties of seasoned ground beef served on lemongrass skewers. For a bit of a Japanese influence, go with the raw yellowtail tacos cleverly served on gyoza wrapper “shells.”
I’d also recommend experimenting with the seafood specials. The two I’ve tried haven’t been perfect, but they were both pretty damn good. My thinly sliced raw scallops sat on a delicate bed of cucumber, and were topped with cherry tomatoes, micro greens, tobiko caviar and jalapeño. While it was slightly awkward to eat with either chopsticks or a fork—and I might have preferred if the chef had held back just a little—it was a beautiful, tasty dish. And while an order of grilled razor clams were slightly overpowered by a heavy dose of scallions and peanuts, as well as a side of fish sauce with garlic and vinegar, they still made for some very delicious bar food.
The one truly disappointing dish I’ve had at District One was an order of Vietnamese beef “carpaccio” topped with lime juice, white onions and peanuts. The cooked meat was unappealing to look at and difficult to eat, and it really wasn’t very appetizing.
I should mention that the house specialty here is a whole quarter-pound lobster pho, where the chef cooks and removes the meat, then reassembles it for a stunning presentation in the broth. I’ve only had a disassembled takeout version, which admittedly isn’t a fair way to judge a dish like this. But even based on that experience, I was impressed.
Al’s Menu Picks
- beef lemongrass skewers ($5)
- fish tacos ($9)
- fresh scallops sashimi-style ($17)
- lobster pho (market price; approximately $30)
District One Kitchen & Bar
3400 S. Jones Blvd., 702-413-6868. Open for lunch and dinner 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Dinner for two, $25-$60.
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