Beard at the Boathouse
at Fin & Pearl
Last month, Fin & Pearl hosted a sold-out dinner, "Ode to the Sea," at the James Beard House in NYC. The evening featured an al fresco cocktail reception with
Vui Hunt and her husband John made their mark on Music City by founding Juice Bar, a chain of fresh juice joints that concentrate on healthy drinks made from healthful ingredients. From their original location in Brentwood, the Hunts have grown their empire to seven Juice Bars, plus more than 20 other locations owned by franchisees. Despite this success, Vui still had another goal in mind: to create a restaurant where she could feature her native Vietnamese dishes made with fresh, seasonal ingredients. The result is Vui’s Kitchen in Berry Hill, which opened in May.
Vui’s Kitchen is the rare sort of restaurant that can both appeal to hardcore fans of Vietnamese food and serve as an introduction to novice diners who are only familiar with now ubiquitous bánh mì sandwiches or bowls of pho. This is not to say that the pho and bánh mì at Vui’s Kitchen aren’t worth a try. They are fine examples, with the former featuring slow-simmered bone broth flavored with spicy peppers and tangy citrus; the latter benefiting from Leidenheimer French bread rolls imported from New Orleans. The baguette offers the bánh mì the perfect combination of crunchy crust and pillow-y insides, supporting a bed of peppery arugula and a pork-lover’s paradise of lemongrass pork belly and creamy, house-made pâté. The addition of pickled daikon, carrots, and cucumber add a little extra texture.
The kitchen and prep space at Vui’s Kitchen is tiny, which is not surprising, considering most of the businesses in the neighborhood are built in small, formerly residential cottages. There are no fryers or microwaves, so every ingredient comes through the door fresh and is assembled into dishes that exhibit the bright, exotic flavors of Vietnam. The only freezer in the kitchen is used to store the seasonally rotating selection of ice cream.
This also means that many of the same ingredients and flavors show up in various dishes in the tight menu. Sweet and salty fish sauce is a mainstay of Viet cuisine, offering generous doses of umami to dishes like the Lotus Root Salad, as well as the rice bowl and noodle bowl, two dishes that can be customized by the addition of pork, chicken, beef, shrimp, or tofu. You can add a fried egg to your bowl, sandwich, or salad—and you should. That same piquant arugula shows up with vermicelli noodles in several dishes, ranging from an addictive starter of Summer Rolls, served with Vui’s special peanut sauce, to the Bun noodle bowl, which is a cross between a traditional green salad, a noodle bowl, and some of the same toppings in the bánh mì.
Drinks and sweets are also a focus at Vui’s Kitchen. Beers include Vietnamese favorite 333 and Tiger Beer from Singapore, while a special press of chicory espresso from 8th and Roast is combined with sweetened evaporated milk and poured over ice to create a drink that is as much of a dessert as a beverage. It’s a sweet finish that might only be matched by owner Vui Hunt and her team’s contagiously friendly demeanor.
2832 Bransford Ave., Berry Hill, 615-241-8847; vuiskitchen.com