Eatz Vietnamese Brings Veggie Joy

On the emerging foodie strip of Barret Avenue, in a small converted house, I found the charming Eatz Vietnamese Restaurant. It is small, about 16 seats on the inside and another 16 on the front deck. A pho fanatic turned me onto Eatz, even though pho ($10) is not veggie, but it might be a dish to lure flesh eaters as if you were doing them a favor.

Vietnamese food is great for picky veggies and those high-maintenance people like me who are gluten intolerant (add in “heavy snorer,” and you have the hat trick of descriptors my wife uses to introduce me at dinner parties, conferences and funerals). The cuisine uses rice noodles, rice paper, spicy-sweet sauces and an array of crunchy and flavorful veggies, and it offers many raw and steamed options. Though some restaurants have moved to some sort of fusion concept, Eatz is a true Vietnamese-only gem.

Drinks: Eatz does not serve wine and spirits yet, but it offers a few domestic and imported beers. The proprietor had to turn up the AC after seeing the white-hot stares coming from my wife when she learned we were in a wine-free zone. Water and soft drinks ($3) are served in mason jars. I ordered the hot tea ($2), served in a traditional teacup.

Appetizers: My wife and I each got an order of spring rolls ($5), though hers included ingredients that used to have a face. The veggie spring rolls were filled with rice vermicelli with fresh herbs (which I kept pronouncing h-erbs to see Hope wince each time) and served with a side of sweet-hot, hoisin peanut sauce for dipping. I judge a Vietnamese restaurant almost solely on its peanut sauce since it is a staple of the cuisine, like marinara at an Italian joint.

My wife ordered the chicken and shrimp rolls ($5). I don’t know if you have ever seen a python unhinge its jaw to swallow an entire deer, but her rolls did not last long. She saved the remainder of her peanut sauce for future dipping opportunities.

We also ordered the fried tofu ($5) but without the gluten-ey breading. In case you were wondering at what point I would burn my tongue and roof of my mouth in this meal, wait no longer. The face-of-the-sun hot tofu was served over a tangy chili sauce, garnished with shredded carrots and a mystery purple leaf that was possibly edible, but I did not have the bravery to give it a go.

To add one more starter to the growing plate pile-up happening at table No. 6, I tried the small house salad ($3) (or as my wife calls it, “her food’s food”). It had a wonderful vinegar base but with some residual sweetness.

I used my remaining, un-scalded taste buds to experiment with the tofu in the different sauces on the table. A close second to the peanut sauce was dipping it in the vinegary dressing over the salad. The residual dressing at the bottom of the now lettuce-free bowl transformed into a lovely dipping station for tofu and spring rolls alike.

For my main course, I selected the Bun Thit Nuong ($10). One needs to be specific to get the gluten-free and/or veggie Bun since the traditional version has meat and fish-based sauces. The veggie version will not disappoint with a flavorful broth over rice noodles, bean sprouts, pickled carrots, radishes and just enough garlic to blend the flavors but less than the amount that requires me to sleep on the couch. Garnished with mint and cilantro, the dish has a complex flavor profile without being too busy or overwhelming. I also added a healthy-boy’s portion of cubed tofu ($2) to add a little protein to the entrée.

One good thing about getting a variety of appetizers is that you can mix and match the sauces: Spring rolls dipped in the remaining salad dressing, the cubes of tofu dipped into the peanut sauce and sauces to mix and match bites of an entrée. •