15 Jan Khong Ten – A Modern Twist on Traditional Vietnamese Flavors
I was first introduced to Vietnamese food when I lived in Washington DC. There is a large population of Vietnamese living in Northern Virginia and Vietnamese restaurants line the streets the way sushi restaurants do in Los Angeles. I have always been disappointed in not finding more Vietnamese restaurants here as I find Vietnamese food to be fresh, healthy and full of flavor. There is a large concentration of Vietnamese living in Southern California but most of the Vietnamese restaurants are located in Orange County and the San Gabriel Valley. Of course, in Los Angeles you can find a smattering of Pho shops but now you can also find a modern take on Vietnamese food at Khong Ten LA in West LA.
Khong Ten translates to “no name” in Vietnamese. Co-Owner and Chef Kim Vu and her partner Don Andes called the restaurant “no name” as they were developing the concept. Don wanted the restaurant to have a Vietnamese name and ironically, on his travels to Vietnam, learned the meaning of Khong Ten. What started as an inside joke stuck and ultimately it is the perfect name for the restaurant.
Khong Ten is not a traditional Vietnamese restaurant. “There is really no name to describe what we are doing here,” explained Kim Vu. “We are not a Vietnamese restaurant. It is more an exploration of Vietnamese cuisine.”
Kim is a first-generation Vietnamese-American but considers herself part of what she describes as the “third wave.” She identifies as 100% Vietnamese but is nothing like her parents. She explained that “the first generation cooks like they are back home and then the second generation, especially in California, starts to use local, fresh ingredients that are available. The third generation re-imagines the cuisine of their parents.”
At Khong Ten, Vu, along with Chef Justin Disbrow, is showcasing New California cuisine through a Vietnamese lens. These are not traditional recipes but they are dishes made in a Vietnamese profile. The idea is farm to table and ingredients are selected at the Santa Monica Farmers Market each week.
With a full bar at Khong Ten, any meal can start with one of the SIGNATURE COCKTAILS. The Garcia Farm Mai Tai with rum, lime juice amaretto, BroVo Orange Curacao and Garcia Farm gauva has refreshing herbal notes whereas the View of Saigon with Aperol, Dolin Blanc vermouth, turmeric syrup, lime and soda has just the right amount of bitter. The Rau Ram Boulevardier with Rau Ram leaves, Rittenhouse Rye, Cynar and BroVo Sweet Vermouth is a play on a classic Boulevardier and is perfect for the whisky lovers. The Spicy Yellow Dragon is made with Vida Mezcal, jalapeno, agave, lime, BroVo Curacao and pineapple and is smokey with a touch of heat. The Tropical Affair made with tequila, Campari, orgeat, lime and pineapple goes down too easily and the Morally Acceptable, made with cucumber, cilantro, gin, lemon, dry vermouth, green chartreuse and jalapeno, is more than morally acceptable.
And perfect to pair with the cocktails are any of the SNACKS as bar snacks are popular in Vietnam and are meant to go with drinking.
House Made Four-Day Beef Jerky – Served with peanuts and herbs, I could easily package this flavorful beef jerky up and take it home with me.
Assorted Farmers Market Pickles – Sweet, spicy and sour, the pickles are made from whatever is fresh at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market that week.
Spicy & Sour Cashews
Toothpick Beef – Served with sesame chile oil, this is a dish typically prepared with lamb. But beef is more accessible and the little bits are addictive.
As we moved on from the Snacks and Signature Cocktails, we selected WINE to pair with the rest of our dishes. It is possible to enjoy different wines with each course as Khong Ten has a strong by-the-glass list with 16 wines available. The prices are good as well, ranging form $8-$19 per glass, with the average glass price at $12. The list does not include cliche brands or typical varieties. Rather the wine list has been curated to pair with the cuisine. There are sparkling wines from New Mexico, Spain and the Loire Valley, white wines, such as Gruner Veltliner, Riesling, Kerner, Vermentino and Chardonnay and roses and reds, including a carbonic merlot. Draft beer and ciders are also available, as are non-alcoholic drinks.
Pull Apart Shrimp Fritters with Thao Farm sweet potato, Vietnamese aioli and lime are fun to eat. You really do have to pull them apart and the sweet potato is crispy and sweet.
The Organic Chicken Wings with soy and sweet chile were crispy on the outside and finger-licking good.
House Made Vietnamese Charcuterie included grilled pork sausage, Vietnamese mortadella, headcheese and chicken pate, served with mustard seed caviar, farmers market fruit compote and pickles. The grilled pork sausage was a standout.
If you like spice, then do not miss the Black PEI Mussels with red coconut milk curry and Lap Xuong.
For a light and refreshing dish, the Thao Farm Bok Choy Salad is perfect. Made with Terry Farm Asian pear, Weiser Farm rainbow carrot, toasted almonds and watermelon radish, it is dressed with the most delicious coriander lemon vinaigrette.
Big Plates are definitely good for parties of two or more. And one dish I would not miss is the Crispy Whole Fish. Served with herbs, rice cracker, Coleman Farm lettuce cups and nuoc cham, it is fun to make your own combination.
For the meat eaters, the Caramelized Hoisin Beef Sirloin with watercress, Coleman Farm purslane, roasted Tutti Frutti tomato, pickled onion and jam is a reinterpretation of the traditional Vietnamese Shaking beef.
The Grilled Marinated Pork Chop with kohlrabi and Asian pear slaw and peanuts is also a standout, especially with the sweetness of the slaw.
The Vietnamese Cauliflower Elote with dried shrimp, chile and lime is a play on corn elote but instead is roasted cauliflower.
Charred Tamai Farm Green Beans with caramelized fish sauce and crispy bread crumbs
Finish off a meal at Khong Ten with dessert. My favorite is the Forbidden Black Rice Pudding with Garcia Farm guava and herbs. The rice is not sweet but the fruit and herbs add sweetness.
Chocolate lovers will definitely love the Five Spice Molten Chocolate Cake with cardamom and salted caramel cashew brittle
For a refreshing dessert, the Lemongrass Ginger Panna Cotta with shortbread crumble and Terry Farm Quince Compote is light bodied and creamy.
Khong Ten LA is introducing Los Angeles to a modern twist on Vietnamese food and I, for one, am trilled they are located in West LA. And, even better, they are open for lunch and dinner, as well as brunch on the weekends!
Không Tên LA
11520 Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Open Daily: 11:00am – 2:00am