First Look: Le Fat
Guy Wong's new Westside restaurant focuses on Vietnamese classics done wellMonday June 8, 2015 04:00 am EDT
Inside Le Fat, whose name is a French/English/Chinese combo (and a nod to chef/owner Guy Wong's son), you'll find a lovely display of Café du Monde chicory coffee — an homage to a French-influenced New Orleans staple popular among the American-Vietnamese community. If you head to the bathrooms down the hall to the left, you pass a très French pastry counter before arriving at the doors marked "Hommes" and "Femmes." Inside, a poster of a famous American airman — Robin Williams as Good Morning, Vietnam's DJ Adrian Cronauer — stares down at you as you wash your hands to the sounds of Édith Piaf singing "La Vie en Rose."
Le Fat is a Vietnamese restaurant, brought to you by genre-hopping Asian-American restaurateur Guy Wong, avec beaucoup de French Colonial flair, miles away (literally and figuratively) from Buford Highway's restaurant row. The hosts are dressed to the nines and the attentive staff sports skinny ties over pressed shirts. As you walk through the well-stocked bar to the compact but airy main dining room, you'll note the walls decked out in a hand-painted garden motif.
Wong is not shy about tackling the standards of Asian cuisine. His Miso Izakaya on Edgewood Avenue manages to hit on modern Japanese/Korean staples, sushi, and sochu alike. He's got a contemporary Chinese dim sum/karaoke place in the works for Decatur, and a ramen/yakitori shop underway for Ponce City Market. He also created Yum Bunz back in 2013 to jump on the fast casual dim sum trend, and, after it failed to catch on, almost immediately announced that the space would be completely transformed into a Vietnamese restaurant. And here we are, a bit more than a year later, at Le Fat, now open since the end of March.
At Le Fat, Wong presents a menu that focuses on benchmark Vietnamese dishes such as pho and shaking beef. Goi cuon summer rolls, bún vermicelli noodles, and green papaya salad are all well-executed, and artfully plated with a refreshing level of precision. Given the quality and attention to detail, expect prices here to be higher than other Vietnamese joints in Atlanta. For example, Wong charges 10 bucks for goi du du papaya salad at Le Fat. The same dish over at Co'm is $6.25; Nam Phuong's version costs $6.95.
Wong admits his prices are higher than those found on Buford Highway. "But I also offer you fresher and (higher) quality ingredients ... in town, where everything is more expensive," he said when asked to comment. "Only in Atlanta do people hold ethnic food back on pricing. In San Francisco where there is a deep history of ethnic food ... you wouldn't complain about high prices at the Slanted Door."
Le Fat isn't trying to be the Slanted Door, which long ago established itself as a paragon of upscale Vietnamese cuisine in America. And, for the most part, Wong delivers on his classics-made-with-care promise. That papaya salad pops more than most with brightly assertive mint and cilantro and the crunchy peanut brittle in place of traditional crushed peanuts.
Pho ($10-$12) arrives a touch silkier than you'll find anywhere else, though I do wish the thinly sliced beef arrived more rare than already done. Le Fat's shaking beef ($19) sports a richer, deeper sauce than typical. But skip the too-tough salt and pepper calamari ($17) in favor of some endearingly squiggly skinned shrimp and fatty pork dumplings bathed in chili oil ($8). The soft-shell crab BLT bun ($10), similar to the buns at Miso, combines a symphony of textures: crunchy crab, pillowy bun, spicy mayo, crisp butter lettuce.
Beverage director T. Fable Jeon's cocktails include gems such as the Amer Pascal made with assertive and floral Old Raj gin and the bitter aperitif cappelletti. The Billet-Doux cocktail benefits from rhubarb, lemon, and honey swirled with sparkling wine and cardamom-spiced curaçao.
Pastry chef Derek Van Cleve pushes boundaries with dishes like white pear dumplings — OK, a cube of pastry with a cube of pear inside — served alongside black sesame ice cream with almond soil and butter toffee. Less out-there but more satisfying is the "jade" brûlée, a luxurious, pale-green matcha vanilla custard.
Le Fat's Vietnamese-basics-done-well are not overwhelmingly better than a Nam Phuong or a Pho Dai Loi, but they are clearly more chef-y. The biggest differences between Le Fat and other Vietnamese spots can be boiled down to its intown location, the presence of a very nice craft cocktail and wine list, and the ambitiously elegant ambience, Robin Williams poster notwithstanding.