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Review: Thoughtfulness that goes into dishes at Viet Palace evident

FARGO - In Asian dishes, when ingredients are fresh, it's obvious. And when they're not, it's obvious, too. Viet Palace makes good on a promise to deliver freshness in places on the menu where it matters most, like spring rolls, and where you mig...

Beef Pho
Viet Palace's Beef Pho has noodles that are done right, beef that is tender, and the broth tastes of something other than bullion. It's mild, it's soft, and it's substantial. Eric Daeuber / The Forum

FARGO - In Asian dishes, when ingredients are fresh, it's obvious. And when they're not, it's obvious, too.

Viet Palace makes good on a promise to deliver freshness in places on the menu where it matters most, like spring rolls, and where you might not notice it, like braised fish.

The spring rolls are tight, crisp, translucent packets of fresh lettuce, cilantro, noodles, pork and shrimp. They are a thoughtful presentation of basic ingredients that belong together and shine in their simplicity.

The sample platter ($7.25) is a good place to start and a good introduction to Vietnamese finger foods, but I'd trade the shrimp toast for another spring roll in a second.

Freshness and thoughtful construction is evident in many of the other dishes on the menu. Often broth soups like Pho ($7.95) can appear more assembled than cooked, with ingredients tossed together in various stages of doneness with no real relationship to each other.

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It's a bit like one of those build-your-own Mongolian grill combos. You might like all the pieces, but they don't talk to each other.

Sprouts and basil on the side, along with other condiments, make it possible to dress it up as you like. But what's important is that the noodles are done right, the beef is tender and the broth tastes of something other than bullion. It's mild, it's soft, and it's substantial.

There are some fun specialties worth serious consideration especially when you consider value. Someone once called me on my tongue-in-cheek reference to Indian comfort food as the sort of thing a Midwestern mum might put on the table if she were not Midwestern, but here it is again.

Ca kho to ($11.96) is a spicy, sweet, sour and salty braised fish that fits literally and aesthetically in a clay pot. It calls out with that earthy flavor that has come to be called umami. It's not your father's channel cat, but a distant cousin, cut into steaks and braised, keeping its shape by virtue of its own bones and fat. It's not a light dish, but it's the kind of thing that can calm a cold Fargo night and treat a bitter outlook on life.

Service is friendly, fast and familiar if a bit rough around the edges. Our table wasn't cleared well between dishes, and our Pho wasn't exactly as ordered. But time will iron out the wrinkles. All the various condiments are worth playing with, with a special nod to the fish sauce. Desserts are so inexpensive, it's silly not to try the sweet peas pudding with sweet rice topped with coconut milk ($2).

This is ethnic food for any taste. There are both mild and adventurous dishes. There are ways to down play or dress up your meal. And there are options for vegetarians.

The menu is huge. Even for those disinclined to culinary exploration, a frank talk with your server is bound to produce something satisfying.

Viet Palace

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Address: 1620 32nd Ave. S., Fargo

Cuisine: Vietnamese

Phone: (701) 356-0008

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Reservations: Accepted

Alcohol: No

Dress: As you like

Credit Cards accepted: Visa, MasterCard and Discover

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Food: Three and a half stars

Service: Two and a half stars

Ambiance: Two stars

Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at food@daeuber.com .

Related Topics: FOOD
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