First Bite: Strikingly Sweet Vietnamese
La Sen’s owners unveil Mangosteen Bistro in Walnut Creek.
Less than a year after relocating their beloved French restaurant, La Sen Bistro, from Concord to downtown Walnut Creek, chef Hai Nguyen and business partner Thanh Dinh have opened Mangosteen Bistro—a celebration of Hanoi’s heritage with a polished yet unpretentious Vietnamese menu.
Just a two-minute stroll from La Sen, Mangosteen’s French influence is pronounced, most strikingly in Nguyen’s classic pho and its shimmering stock, with a rich beef flavor, light body, and sweetly sublime aroma of star anise. Mangosteen’s papaya salad is the best I’ve tried: tender threads of fruit tossed in a sparkling herb dressing with crunchy peanuts, fried shallots, freshly grilled shrimp, and just enough spice to keep you hooked.
The neatly presented dishes match this bistro’s modern, handsome dining room accented with brick and chocolate-red walls. (The ambience remains largely unchanged from the space’s incarnation as Kanishka’s Gastropub, which closed late last year.) Appetizers range from simply fried chicken wings with lemon juice and pepper, to the sizzling stuffed crepe served with a mountain of overwhelmingly fresh herbs. The latter comes with lettuce “cups,” but ask for rice-paper wraps to highlight the flavors and fun.
Our server, who suggested the wraps, was unflinchingly gracious throughout.
If you’re a catfish fan, Nguyen’s caramelized clay pot can’t be beat: a crock of sticky-sweet glaze coating bone-in fish, accompanied by a generous side of perfectly cooked rice. Our only complaint was the pork banh mi: The sandwich lacked pizzazz.
Still, open all day with extraordinarily reasonable prices, Mangosteen is a must-try. Walnut Creek is lucky to score another treasure.
1518 Bonanza St., Walnut Creek, (925) 476-5150, mangosteenbistro.com. Lunch and dinner daily.