Dinner Out @ Cilantro Vietnamese Bistro

We've got a take out rotation.  I suppose it's strongly influenced by proximity to Northside - but even when we lived in OTR, Clifton was the main location for said rotation.  And in particular, Cilantro Vietnamese Bistro has been a regular stop for quite some time.

The Food: My regular order is the vermicelli noodle bowl, or Bun.  It's a bed of lettuce, followed by vermicelli rice noodles, then stir-fried onions and lemongrass and your choice of meat (I get chicken).  It's topped with bean sprouts, cilantro, carrots, and crushed peanuts.  I dare say, it is a taste explosion waiting to happen!  Adding to the goodness, the house dressing (nuoc man) - what seems to be a light vinegary concoction that approaches the pungence of fish sauce with a sweetness - and red chili paste make for an excellent personalized kick.  Awesome textures and flavors make this a well-balanced delight.  It's particularly comforting when I'm feeling a bit under the weather and want to zap my senses a bit.

Sarah's usual is beef pho (pronounced fuh).  A traditional Vietnamese soup that we most often eaten at home - if you order it on the go, here's what to expect: 1) a large bowl of rice noodles layered with very thinly-sliced raw beef, topped with scallions, 2) a Big Gulp-sized styrofoam cup full of beef stock, and 3) a small box of always fresh bean sprouts, lime wedge, basil and cilantro leaves, and a small to go ramekin of 1/2 sriracha and 1/2 hoisin (creating a brown and red yin yang of taste).  Pour the broth in the bowl, and it cooks the beef on the spot!  If you're Sarah you eat it right away while it's darn near raw.  I stir it furiously for a minute or two until I feel more comfortable with the whole thing.  Sarah uses a fork and a spoon to consume this soul warming dish.  A note to the home cook, pho bouillon cubes are available at about any Asian store in town for cheap cheap and you can have a respectable home version of pho in no time.  We haven't taken the time to figure out how to recreate the beef yet because why, oh why, should we mess with such a good and affordable thing?

The starter that I'll finish with is what we usually call the veggie cold wrap, they call the veggie soft roll, and I'm sure everyone calls a treat.  Every once and a while the vermicelli noodles that fill the dry, yet sticky, clear wrap - along with lettuce, tofu, and bean sprouts - get a bit stale.  But, it doesn't even matter because when you dip the roll into the brown mystery sauce (sweeter and thinner than hoisin we think, and filled with chopped peanuts and maybe carrots - now we have a side bet), all is happily forgotten.

Overall, Cilantro is consistently a winner.  At $6 a meal, this has got to be near the top of the list of best bang for your buck options in the city.  The only thing we'd like is if they'd stop pouring piping hot beef stock into styrofoam and covering it with a plastic top that inevitably melts around the edges by the time we get it home.  New good idea in the meantime - we'll bring a thermos!

The Ingredients: Nothing notable here unfortunately that we're aware of.  For regular Amateur Foodies readers (can that exist in week two?), you'll note we look for local, seasonal, organic or other honorable mention ingredients that might make this a standout.

The Setting & Story:  Cilantro has been open for almost 6 years in this somewhat odd spot across from Hughes High School.  I've certainly done my fair share of U turns to illegally park outside Cilantro.  And I should say, almost every single time I've arrived in the inevitable 10-15 minutes that my order should be ready - it is.  That's notable unfortunately - there are more than a few places around that aren't ready when you arrive.

When I said I was taking pictures for a blog (see more below), the owner suggested I come back in a couple days because they were putting on a fresh coat of paint.  So, these photos are hot off the press!  The inside of Cilantro is cozy.  Several bar seats for a quick lunch, and a few 2 tops if you're coupled up.  The food comes fast and hot from no-nonsense servers (sometimes /cooks), and there's hoisin and sriracha to add a bit of sweet or a bit of spicy to anything on the menu.

In the most recent Cincinnati Magazine that has their 2010 top 10 restaurants list, my favorite meal (pictured above) was noted by Chef Joanne Drilling (just leaving Slim's for Murphin Ridge Inn) as her favorite dish in the city!  I was happy to be able to share that news with the owner just after the magazine hit our mailbox.

Cilantro Vietnamese Bistro on Urbanspoon


Ravenous Couple said...

those are classic vietnamese dishes and not hard to make at home! :)

Gavin DeVore Leonard said...

We've made pho at home and its come out pretty well - haven't made bun yet, but it certainly seems pretty straightforward! Thanks for the comment :)...