What was Pho PDX has blossomed into adulthood recently with Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen. It cleans up its late night pho act by leaving the food court mall equivalent of a just graduated out of college continuation of a dorm room/first apartment, and is now getting all modern and sophisticated like it now has a respectable full time white collar job and the same interior decorator who designs those apartments used in backdrops in TV shows.
They have deep red booth seats with little gold buttons and antique-recalling wooden red mismatched chairs paired with modern dark wood tables and a minimalist bar (including the I hope you have a small butt barstools) which are softened by pink parasols hanging from the ceiling and the whimsy of sketched black and white lions with fetching blue eyes jumping around playfully on one wall to counter the damask wallpaper on the other wall. It seems just too classy for a place that stays open until 4am. It's like a sexy supermodel or actress who loves sports and videogames- who's complaining about the upscale-ness?
After a little holiday shopping downtown, we stopped for dinner. They have a menu on a chalkboard, but grab the printed ones by the register when you first walk in and order there at that corner. They give you a table # so then you find your seat and wait for your food delivery. This definitely makes sense for the pho lunch rush to get orders in as fast as possible- and thankfully unlike say the teeny Pine State Kitchen or Bunk Sandwiches which also runs on a "order first and then get your seat", there is plenty of real estate to establish your eating space- it's more akin to Noodles and Company or Boke Bowl with the table numbers meaning you will at least get your food delivered to you without trying to carry your pho anywhere.
It just looks so nice it almost seems like it would be a full service restaurant- especially when you are at the more laid back dinner hour. Consider this though- then you'd be at the mercy of someone waiting and checking on your table. The biggest boon to this is for cocktails. I only had two that night, but let's say I want to try them all (and let's say that's not untrue, but probably should not be done in one trip). I would easily be able to every time I want a refresh, just hustle up to the bar and get instant gratification of ordering something instead of having to flag someone down as they try to service everyone else. It is a more casual service model, but I don't mind. There's nothing wrong with sometimes preferring the service at In N Out over a tablecloth restaurant.
For food, we started out with the Fresh Spring Rolls (rice paper stuffed with vermicelli noodles, romain, sprouts, and mint and your choice of pork&shrimp, shrimp, or tofu- we had tofu) last time, so this time went with the Vegetarian Crispy Rolls with tofu, celery, cabbage and carrots. The end of our comparison was that crispy rolls aren't as good- we like the peppery flavor inside, but the wrapper added an extra oiliness that isn't as refreshing and "I feel healthy" as the super fat spring rolls (even though you are eating something 4x the size). Definitely go with the Spring Rolls (you can see photos of them at my previous blog on Pho PDX).
For the main, I tried out the expanded menu from pho with the namesake Luc Lac, cubed beef tenderloin wok seared with hennessey, beurre de france, garlic, black peppercorn, served with field mixed greens and tomato fried rice. This is some seriously steak quality meat that is flavorful and a nice cut of beef, it made the greens underneath just by being underneath super tasty. The tomato fried rice was ok but I would have preferred plain jasmine rice to not compete with the flavor of the beef.
The other main, Lemongrass Stir Fry with tofu option (instead of chicken) with veggies and lemongrass-tumeric chili sauce over rice, was the same as previously served at Pho PDX- ok, but why get that when you have so many other better options with their bigger kitchen? They now offer tempting sounding Ga Ro Ti of roasted half game hen marinated in lemongrass, spirces, and garlic with greens and tomato fried rice, Nem Nuong Pork Sausage either as vermicelli bowls or rice plates or Banh Mi (or awesomely a combination plate with grilled pork, grilled chicken, grilled chrimp, the nem nuong as crispy rolls), Chicken wings caramelized in fish sauce and garlic, Mussels in lemongrass tamarind broth with mushrooms, Sugar Cane Shrimp...
Yes I'll be back please. I'm going to have every cocktail they offer by Spring 2012, you'll see. Those cocktails kick a$$... and is all the reason you need to expand from the pho to try everything else on the menu.