1801 W Sunset Blvd
Echo Park, Ca 90026
(corner of Sunset & Lemoyne)
I love the concept of Xoia. Brightly lit, modern, super clean serving slightly fusioned Vietnamese food just a short walk from my front door.
During their soft opening I experienced some hits and misses. Above, the handicap friendly entryway.
Hit: Simple, an arty without being artsy interior with great bathrooms and very clean new surroundings. Not that clean and new is always what I look for in a restaurant. And I am sure some locals are saying in their minds, "there goes the neighborhood boho vibe" with what is surely the first of many businesses that will open in the neighborhood trying to attract some dollas with sleek concepts. I welcome the new and different addition. Variety gives neighborhoods texture.
We arrived around 7 something-ish; the dining room was about 1/4 occupied. By the time we left 8 something-ish and definitely dark outside the room was packed. Every table inside and outside was taken with a nice mix of people from the 'hood. Older folk, Latinos, quite a few people of varying Asian persuasions, and a lot of EP kiddos having a nosh before music at The Echo or simply enjoying our very street centered nightlife.
Miss: The much bally-hooed Pho Beef Tacos. Served on corn tortillas with cilantro, onions, radish and a housemade "salsa".
Maybe I am spoiled for the deliciously savory salty carnitas, puerco, carne asada, and birria from the many delicious taco trucks around our fair city. Honestly, no taco will ever top Taco Jeesy's in East LA. However, I found the meat on these pretty little tacos nowhere near flavorful enough. Pat reviewed these tacos last week on Eating L.A. She mentioned that the tacos simply needed some soy sauce and the salsa to bring them to life, which I heartily agree with. But I want the beef to be flavorful enough to stand on its own. I added a healthy dose of the brown chili sauce/salsa and lots of lime juice to bring these to life. They're sure pretty to look at though, and lots of orders of these puppies were being ferried out to tables all around me.
Hit: Chicken Curry Banh Mi with Lemongrass Infused Curry Chicken. This is a basic curry banh mi, pretty tasty with one potent jalapeno that my mouth enjoyed adventurously.
But dip your sandwich into this curry jus and you are taking it to another level altogether. This was phenomenal. D wasn't thrilled that the kitchen put mayo on the sandwich. Personally, I have never been served banh mi with mayo that I can recall.
However, after doing some research around the webs I find that mayo on banh mi is not unheard of. He just hates mayo in general (I loves), so don't judge this by his bias. It was wonderful. Plenty of veg evenly distributed, a bounty of cilantro, and that super spicy jalapeno. If a jalapeno is hot enough to make me go "woohoo", it's a good one. I will be returning for this, without a doubt.
Miss: Pho Tai: Rice noodle beef broth w/rare steak, fresh cilantro, sprouts, basil and jalapenos. Meh. Certainly generous enough in size and beautifully presented. My regular pho joint, Pho 87, serves an equally large portion for less dough, but we are also paying for atmosphere and location at Xoia. Atmosphere and location, size and presentation notwithstanding, this was just not on. First off, it wasn't hot enough. Pho pas! We also had problems with the broth.
The broth in this bowl was seriously anemic. So lacking flavor we didn't come close to finishing it. I asked our server if they use MSG. Last summer I took a culinary tour of Little Saigon with Chef Robert Danhi. Despite the wealth of knowledge he shared with us that day, I still feel like I know very little about Vietnamese cooking practices, so I am not expressing expertise in any way. But I do remember very clearly Chef Danhi telling us that nearly every kitchen in Vietnam uses MSG. No one really trips out about it. MSG is a cheap and easy way to add extra savory umami-yumminess to broths and sauces. Curious about the lack of flavor in the bowl I inquired, our server told us sheepishly they do use MSG. So where's the flavor?
Possibly my disappointment in the dish is a matter of ordering wrong. Xoia also offers a chicken curry noodle soup with rice noodles, carrots and potatoes. Many bowls of this strolled purposefully by headed to other tables. The air of the restaurant was fragrant with the curry-lemongrass scent. If the flavors in that curry soup are even close in deliciousness to the curry jus of the banh mi, I will become a obsessive.
Hit: Service. Pleasant, efficient and happy. The night in question our server didn't know if the baguettes are made with rice or wheat flour (they aren't housemade), but I am sure they will know the next time we pop in. And there will be a next time. I need that chicken curry banh mi again, and the curry noodle soup has left a mouth watering question mark imprinted in my brain.
Now, can someone tell me how in hades to pronounce Xoia?
Addendum: Joshua from Food GPS tells me Xoia is pronounced "soo-ya". Additionally, Jessica Gelt from the LATimes added her early review of Xoia in this morning's paper. Her food experience sounds to have been a little more satisfying. And because I really want Xoia to succeed, I think you should read her review too!