S(h)ort of the Mark 

Silent(h) 79 Berry St, 718-218-7063, Brooklyn
Price range:  $15-$30  
Rating: 2L's

After suffering through poorly conceived, souless fusion, Vietnamese food can be a revelation. Under a century of French rule, Vietnam developed a unique cuisine, rich with French and Southeast Asian flavors and methods, more accessible than authentic Chinese, more varied than Thai. Even after a lengthy war exposed America to the bounteous, exotic land, there’s still a paucity of authentic Vietnamese here, especially at the high end.

So I was psyched to go to Williamsburg’s Silent(h), whose owner eschews Pho for more inventive fare and kitchen-sink menus in favor of an edited list of six main courses. But the joys of this comfortable, economical restaurant don’t lie in the food. A starter of Bahn Tom Chien ($6) was bruschetta by way of ‘Nam, with shrimp and gritty mung bean fried onto slices of delicate French bread. Underseasoned to blandness, it made an interesting counterpoint to a Beef Carpaccio ($9) touted for its intense heat. Sure, there was chili, but the raw beef was just a conveyance for intense lime and cilantro. Yet it did inspire me to drink more beer, which is fine because Silent(h) is BYOB — for now.

Lo Luc Lac ($14), Vietnamese steak frites, was composed of overcooked hunks of inferior meat, grilled pineapple, artful shoestring fries and a sweet chili ketchup. Replace the syrupy ketchup with an aioli and grill some prime shortribs, and this could work — but beige school-grade beef doesn’t belong in a restaurant. Banh Xeo ($12.50), a Vietnamese crepe, was a more successful display of the nation’s French heritage, as a slightly chewy mung bean crepe replaced the French original, stuffed with a hearty combo of pork belly and shrimp. The melting fat of the sparse pork belly amped up the flavor of the shrimp, while a chili-coconut glaze added a sweet, hot and luscious mouthfeel that was fantastic with the crunchy ends.

Dessert had the most interesting presentation, with four fried, banana-stuffed wontons resting on kumquat whipped cream, draped in coconut caramel, on Asian spoons. But it wasn’t quite enough.

Yes, the food was disappointing, but Silent(h) hits high notes a more accomplished kitchen misses. The music, like the soundtrack to a post-modern Brooklyn love story, was an eclectic wonder. And our waitress had the unteachable gift of seeming genuinely interested in everyone who came in, always ready with a cold beer — which were not being tacked onto the bill — or a witty remark.

My party was alone by the time we finished — at 9:30pm. Even at these prices, with gracious service, an open, modern space, and BYOB convenience, its not hard to see why. What a shame.


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