By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov
Warm, cozy, elegant, and impeccably designed, Le Soleil in the San Francisco’s Inner Richmond neighborhood is a United States branch of the Michelin-rated Hong Kong venue located in the five-star Royal Garden Hotel in Kowloon. A shining example of a family business done right, this little restaurant is owned and operated by Dennis and Annie Wong – a remarkable pair of achievers meticulously following their own high standards in food, service, and ambience for nearly 20 years.
Recently remodeled and reopened, the beloved dining spot in the lively pedestrian district attracts neighborhood loyals as well as newcomers tipped off by the culinary awards and patrons’ accolades given to Chef Dennis’s “new Vietnamese cuisine” with French and Pan-Asian influences.
On any given night the sleek minimalist dining room decorated with dark carved wood, shiny geometrical accents, live orchids, and cultural artifacts, fills out fast. Most of the groups and couples are greeted by Annie as regulars (and indeed, they are) who know what they crave without looking at the menu.
My dining companion and I had to ask our gracious server, also a Wong family member, for advice, and were we glad we did!
Our Fresh Spring Roll with BBQ pork, lettuce, and cucumber wrapped in silky rice paper was served with chili fish sauce and – bursting with flavor.
Crispy and sunny-yellow Turmeric Crepe made with mung beans and coconut milk was stuffed with mushrooms and tofu, grated vegetables and bean sprouts, and served alongside wide lettuce leaves and fresh mint. Following our server’s instructions, we wrapped salad leaves around chunks of the crepe, added some mint, and dipped the entire thing in soy, vinegar, and chili sauce for a rewarding bite.
Then we indulged in a mini-circus, when our rum-soaked quail was put on fire tableside, and then extinguished, leaving the bird enticingly seared and oozing with juices. Pouring a scoop of lemon-pepper sauce over it brought this sophisticated appetizer to pure perfection.
A cup of Spicy Chicken Coconut Soup had all the comfort of combined chicken broth and coconut milk, plus just enough heat to counter the texture of mushrooms and the mild perfume of lemongrass.
Caramelized Sea Bass, glazed in soy and garnished with Brussels sprouts and Jasmine rice, was unbelievably tender and juicy, with the crispy outer layer.
Finally, the king of main courses, Garlic Roasted Dungeness Crab came whole, with brightly decorative shell and claws, pan-fried in browned butter and loads of garlic, and placed atop egg noodles studded with bits of egg, scallions, bamboo shoots, ginger, and chili flakes.
In the beautiful Le Soleil everything invites you to linger. You have to wrap and dip your crepe, peel your crab, and when it comes to dessert, you really need to indulge.
A traditional Vietnamese sweet concoction is marked on the menu as Triple Layer Sundae, but it’s a thing of richer flavors than the name implies. Delectable coconut ice cream is placed in a glass mug, topped with red beans, green mung bean jelly, and coconut milk. You can mix it up and eat with a spoon or wait until it melts and drink it with a straw. Both ways it’s irresistible.
Another great dessert is Crème Brulee flavored with Vietnamese coffee – who could ask for anything more?
Le Soleil carries a decent wine and beer list and an engaging array of non-alcoholic beverages.There are several varieties of Asian hot teas, of which Burmese Pink Rose Bud is served in a tea pot decorated with a little rose bud – a nice touch and yet another little testament to the owners’ appreciation for design and attention to detail.
Le Soleil Restaurant is located at 133 Clement in San Francisco, California. Open Wednesday through Monday for dinner (5:00 to 10:00 p.m.) and lunch (11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.). For more information or reservations, call (415) 668-4848 or visit: www.lesoleilsf.com.