Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Nightshade Noodle Bar: Compelling Vietnamese/French Cuisine in Lynn

Last week, I finally dined at Nightshade Noodle Bar, in Lynn, for the first time. I'd read the raves about it and had been intrigued by their menu. The pandemic certainly delayed plans but I finally made the journey, and now I look forward to returning, to try more of their delicious cuisine and drinks. It's a worthy restaurant destination for their Vietnamese and French influenced menu. 

There's plenty of on-street parking available near the restaurant, and I was actually surprised at how many open spaces there were on a Friday evening. Nightshade has a good sized patio, and they also offer take-out and delivery. There's a medium-sized room for indoor dining, with a bar to the left of the room, high tops to the right, and an open kitchen to the back. It has a comfortable ambiance, and I love the open kitchen concept. To dine inside, you must show proof of vaccination, which is a reasonable request during these times.

The kitchen is headed by Chef Rachel Miller, a Virginia native, who has worked at a variety of restaurants in Boston, including notably as the Chef de Cuisine at Clio. For over two years, she also worked as a private chef and conducted numerous Nightshade Pop Up dinners. In October 2019, she opened Nightshade Noodle Bar, and the last couple years have obviously been difficult due to the pandemic. Not the best time for a new restaurant. 

I want to provide my preliminary thoughts on Nightshade Noodle Bar, and please note that these are based on a single visit. After I dine there more, I'll update my thoughts in an additional article. 

For this visit, I chose to have cocktails rather than wine, although the wine list is interesting and I would like to explore it on future visits. The Drinks menu has 8 special Cocktails, priced $11-$15, with lots of diversity to the type of drinks available, often with an Asian flair.

The Nightshade Mai Tai ($15) is made with Privateer rum, almond, lime, and Vietnamese cinnamon. It's fruity, smooth and easy-drinking, with an intriguing hint of cinnamon, and is much different from the usual Mai Tais you find made with orange and pineapple juices. 

The Moon Rabbit ($12) is made with Tito's vodka, guanabana (also known as soursop), lychee, and lime. Another fruity, but not overly sweet, drink with a pleasing tropical flair.  

They offer a nonalcoholic drink, the Nha Trang Beach ($6), made with shiso, coriander, guanabana, lemon, lemon, and soda. However, you can add Mezcal (+$6), which I did. Another well-balanced, tasty cocktail, with the flavors meshing well with the taste of the Mezcal. 

My favorite of the cocktails was the Saigon Cigar Club ($13), made with bourbon, Thai banana, and black cardamom. What an intriguing and delicious drink, almost like a tropical version of a Manhattan, and the addition of the banana leaf was a cool visual touch. 

The Food Menu has plenty of interesting options, broken down into several different categories. There are Snacks & Bites, 5 choices ($5-$16), from Shrimp Toast ($5) to Chili Crisp Cream Cheese Crab Dip ($16). The Small Plates has 8 choices ($10-$18), from Pho-Smoked Shrimp Cocktail ($14) to Sungold Tomato Salad ($10) and they have two RollsFried Clams or Lobster ($16). There is also Viet-Cajun Seafood, a 1/2 pound of Wild Carolina Shrimp ($16) or Steamers ($12). In addition, there are sections for Noodles, 4 choices ($20-$32), and Rice, 3 choices ($20-$28). Finally, for a splurge, there are a few special Caviar dishes, with options to add caviar to some of the other dishes as well. 

Our server informed us that the menu is generally meant to be shared, and she recommended that we order three dishes per person. It might remind you of a Spanish tapas menu, where you get the opportunity to sample a variety of dishes for dinner. Service was excellent, with our server being personable and attentive. 

From the Snacks & Bites, we ordered the Curried Beef in Betel Leaves ($8), in a sweet chili sauce. This was my first bite of food, and it captivated me from the moment I tasted it. Juicy and flavorful  with a hint of spicy heat accented by the mild sweetness of the sauce. Pure deliciousness, and it boded well for the rest of the meal that was to come. I've had beef in Betel leaves before, but this was certainly the best version I've ever tasted. Highly recommended! 

Also from the Snack & Bites section, we ordered the Grilled Coconut Sticky Rice Pop ($6), topped by a brown butter tamarind pork floss. A well-balanced dish, the flavors worked together harmoniously, nothing over powering the others. The coconut, tamarind and pork each played their role, creating an intriguing and tasty appetizer. 

The Viet-Cajun Steamer Clams ($12) were served in a "super aromatic lemongrass cajun butter", and that butter was compelling, with lots of aromatics and a touch of spicy heat. In general, the clams were very tender and good, except a couple were a bit too gritty. I suspect the Viet-Cajun Shrimp dish would also be quite delicious.  

From the Small Plates, we chose the Kabocha Squash Bot Chien ($12), Vietnamese rice cakes, crispy confit duck tongues, green chili sauce, duck egg, and pickled carrots & daikon. An intriguing and creative dish, which was a fine blend of textures and flavors, all meshing well together. The crispy duck tongues were a nice addition and unless you knew what they were, you probably never would have guessed that they were tongues.  

The Dungeness Crab Fried Rice ($28), housed in a crab shell, is made with black garlic-chili sauce and a ginger scallion vinaigrette. Savory with sweetness from the black garlic and crab meat, this was another compelling dish, and I could have easily eaten this all on my own. The cool presentation also adds to the allure of the dish. Highly recommended. 

The Chicken Curry Noodle Soup ($20) is made with Vadouvan chicken broth, thick tapioca noodles, braised chicken thigh, crispy ginger, thai basil, and coriander. Again, another excellent dish, bursting with flavor, with an amazing broth, tender pieces of shredded chicken, and thick, chewy noodles. You'll be drinking the broth straight from the bowl.

The Homemade Egg Noodles, made with caramelized garlic sauce, peanuts, Thai basil, and chili crisp, comes with either braised mushrooms, shredded beef or both, and we opted for both ($24). A superb dish, with immense flavor, lots of umami, and a great balance of textures and flavors. I would have loved to experience this dish with an umami-rich Kimoto/Yamahai Sake. Highly recommended!  

Overall, we enjoyed an excellent dining experience and the food was stellar, creative and flavorful. I'm eager to return and highly recommend that my readers dine there as well. 

I'll note that a 20% admin fee is added to every check and that money is supposed to be split among the whole team, including the back of the house, to make everything more equitable. "Additional tips to the restaurant are not necessary but are appreciated!"

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