Summary: Good Vietnamese food in a crowded, happy, family friendly atmosphere.
It had been literally years since we've last been to Le Cheval, so when Boris suggested it as a possible destination for one of our ever more rare evenings out with friends (April 2007), I jumped at the idea. I've always liked Le Cheval and yet I'd never actually reviewed it. Yep, I like writing these reviews.
Le Cheval has not changed in all these years. It's still very busy and pretty noisy, full of groups of families and friends, and very high-energy. This is not a place you go for a romantic date. As for the restaurant, it's a very large room, pretty much divided in two and decorated with depictions of - what else? - horses. By the entrance there is a large Buddha and a statue of a dragon, pretty cool to look at while waiting to be seated - and if you don't have reservations, you may have to wait a while.
The menu seems to have every Vietnamese dish known to a western audience. In general, their dishes are a little over $10 - though they offer a 7-course beef dinner that is $27 per person and has a 2 - person minimum. I've had it before and had enjoyed it, though the price is too steep for me to order it again.
We started with the shrimp rolls (3 for $6 - why must these things always come in 3? It's too hard to share when you go out with an even number of friends!) and the imperial rolls ($5.50 for 3). Mike thought the shrimp rolls were pretty good, but he really liked the imperial rolls. These were crispy and full of flavor. I, however, felt that the rolls at Le Soleil - our neighborhood Vietnamese restaurant - were better. Indeed, this was a theme throughout the evening, I enjoyed the food but felt it compared negatively to Le Soleil.
I had the orange flavored beef ($10.95), and liked it. It had an intense flavor that I can't quite describe, not quite sweet and not very orangy, but that I liked, and yet I could still taste the flank steak. I didn't like it as much as the tangier sauce at Le Soleil, but this one felt somewhat more refined and grown up. I'd order it again.
Mike had the Le Cheval Combo ($9.55), a combination of pork and prawn kebabs, fried chicken drummets and an imperial roll, served with French (aka tomato) rice. Both kebabs were nicely done, with intense flavors and Mike was quite happy. The chicken, on the other hand, was just plain fried chicken with no seasoning whatsoever. A waste of calories, if you ask me. You probably are better off just ordering the pork or shrimp kebab by itself. The tomato rice - which I also ordered on the side (a huge portion for $1.50) - was just OK, it definitely tasted of tomato, but I felt it wasn't well balanced.
Regina had the vegetarian claypot ($8.55), and she said she liked it, the vegetables tasted fresh and the dish was homey and comforting. She particularly liked the crust at the bottom.
Boris had the beef in coconut milk ($10.95), which came with a very nice coconut curry. The flavor of the coconut was mild, but the curry itself was very good. He liked it very much, though Regina was less crazy about it. I might order it, though I prefer my curries bolder.
For dessert, Mike and I shared the bananas flambee and these were dramatic and delicious. They bring you a plate with crispy battered bananas, and then they light some alcohol on fire and transfer the fire to a pot of honey - which they then pour onto the bananas. The result was not only beautiful but very, very tasty. I'd highly recommend it. We had it with vanilla gelato, and the heat and cold were nice contrasts. The vanilla gelato also helped dissipate the sweetness of the honey. The ice cream, by the way, was very light and good. Boris and Regina shared what I think was Kalhua gelato. It was amazing, once again very light but with a wonderful creamy coffee flavor. I'd definitely order it again.
Service was good an attentive, and we had the surprise that our favorite waitress from Le Soleil had just started working there. We will miss her, but were happy to see her there.
We had a great time and I'm looking forward to our next meal there.
1007 Clay St