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157 Noyes Street

Three and 1/4 Plates  
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Vientiane Reviewed: Spring, 2000

From the outside, Vientiane resembles a cobbler's shop or an old-fashioned general store more than it does a restaurant.However, stepping through the door, mouth-watering aromas and the colorful packaging of hundreds of Asian food products let you know exactly where you are.

Vientiane is a small Thai restaurant and Oriental market. The restaurant section consists of an ordering station at the back of the room and four small tables sectioned off, but still part of the market space. The kitchen is in view through an open doorway behind the counter, allowing those wonderful smells to wander around the store with you while you wait. The shelves of the market area are like a canned goods carnival. Day-glo green and hot pink are interesting color combinations that you wouldn't typically see at your chain grocery store. And just try to find these products at Shop 'n' Save: grass jelly, banana sauce, prawn crackers and a multitude of canned fruits & vegetables I had never heard of. There were more types of hot sauces and dried peppers than I could count in the time it took for our food to be prepared. Against the back wall of Vientiane, there is a cooler containing fresh vegetables and spices such as lemon grass and bean sprouts, and all sorts of healthy, non-alcoholic beverages.

We visited Vientiane twice, both times easily finding a parking space on Noyes Street. On the first occasion, at around 5:30pm, all the tables were occupied and there was a line of people waiting to order or pick up their meals. Vientiane is obviously a popular spot for a good, quick dinner.

When our turn at the counter arrived, we gave our order to a very friendly woman, who was blushing profusely after a customer (obviously a regular) commented on her leopard-print pants. I ordered vegetarian spring rolls ($3.50) and tofu Pad Thai ($5.25). My companion chose Bangkok Chicken, "tender chicken delicately sautéed with pineapple chunks, cherry tomatoes, onion, and green peppers in a lucious curry and pineapple sauce." It took a while for our meal to be prepared, but Vientiane is a pleasant and interesting place to spend 30 minutes. When our food came out, the woman apologized for the wait, explaining that they didn't have any vegetarian spring rolls ready. We didn't mind a bit.

We opted to take our food home both times we visited Vientiane, as it seems that most of their business is done through take-out. My freshly made spring rolls were large, tasty and lovely to look at. The vegetables (mostly cucumber, carrot and sprouts) and the mint were very fresh and the rice wrapping itself was soft and easy to bite into. They came with a sweet Thai sauce with bits of peanut and pepper flakes. The tofu Pad Thai (a noodle dish fried with tofu, ground peanut, bean sprouts, scallions and Thai spices) was very good, with lots of fried tofu chunks and a subtle sweetness. Unlike some Thai restaurants in the area, Vientiane is refreshingly light-handed with its use of fish flavoring in its food. I had ordered my Pad Thai two (out of five) stars hot and it was just right, enjoyable with a glass of water nearby. The Bangkok Chicken was excellent - not to mention healthy - with plentiful chunks of tender white meat and extremely fresh and colorful vegetables. It was served with a small container of sticky, white rice.

On our second visit, I ordered the Tom Kar Gai (Shrimp soup with coconut broth-$2.25) and the vegetable fried rice ($4.75), while my companion had the Ginger Chicken (your choice of meat, sautéed with ginger, onions, peppers, snow peas and carrots-5.75). The Tom Kar Gai broth was really wonderful. The sweet flavor of coconut was complimented by the slightly sour, citrus flavor of lemongrass. Small, tender mushrooms floated in the broth along with 2 medium sized shrimp. The shrimp had a slightly funky aftertaste and I was a bit concerned about freshness, but it is possible that this is the flavor shrimp take on after soaking in coconut broth. Though aesthetically pleasing, with many types of colorful vegetables throughout, the fried rice's lack of flavor was disappointing. I added some soy and hot sauce to make it more enjoyable. My companion nodded approvingly as his Ginger Chicken disappeared. However, he mentioned that there should have been a few more pieces of chicken. The light ginger sauce was delicious, complimenting the fresh vegetables and meat nicely. This dish also came with a small, but adequate helping of white rice.

wheelchair accessible
vegetarian selections
vegan selections
most credit cards accepted
Vientiane offers four appetizers ranging from $3.50 to $5.20, six soups from $2.15 to $2.20, eight specials from $5.25 to $7.75, various fried rice selections from $4.75 to $6.75, ten 'meat and vegetable' dishes from $5.75 to $6.75, and five curry dishes from $6.00 to $6.75. Nearly every selection can be ordered mild (*) to very hot (*****).

Vegetarians take note: be specific about wanting things vegetarian here-my vegetable fried rice had egg in it, which I don't mind, but I know some people would!

Vientiane is open 7 days a week, 11:00am to 9:00pm. You can call in an order at (207) 879-1614 or (207) 774-7311 or fax in your order (for a 5% discount) to (207) 774-1494  back to the top

Matt O'Donnell is a poet and freelance writer who lives in Portland.
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