Winter calls for heavy fare: rich braised meats enrobed with layered of flavors, creamy soups, and pastry stuffed to the bursting with savory nourishments.
Summer food, by contrast, can’t trundle around — it needs to dance a jig and pull a cartwheel. And while the pho served in Minnesota’s Vietnamese restaurants is a perfect winter warmer, much of the rest of the menu capers into the spotlight when the mercury heads north of 80 … or 85 … or 90, as has so often been the case this year.
One of my personal light-stepping stars of the summer is available at IndoChin. It’s a St. Paul neighborhood establishment located in the sleepy, residential western part of Grand Ave. and owned by sisters Ha Tu and Thu Nguyen (who also own Que Nha). There’s nothing remarkable about the dining room or menu at IndoChin, but the food is lovely — simple, healthy, balanced, low-key and inviting.
The dish is Com Ga Nuong, and menu description is simplicity itself: C4 BBQ Chicken Over Steamed Rice ($8).
That text is both evocative and deceptively protective of the dish itself: evocative, because there’s really not a lot to look at when the food hits the table, and protective, because by using even such a simple palate, you can create an estival masterpiece.
What you get is a thin, beautifully charred cut of dark-meat chicken served with shredded lettuce, sliced cucumbers, broken white rice, and nuoc cham dipping sauce. Soy and sriracha sit in red containers on your table, and hoisin is available on request. Once you start deploying your various multi-layered / funky / spicy sauces, the tender rice, the cooling veggies, and the rich, slightly unctuous (but not gristly or chewy) charred chicken, you start to realize that the dish isn’t dull, it’s practically limitless.
It’s not an overproduced dish that you’re eventually bored by; it’s a humble dish that you come back to. And that’s enough to help burn through the overheated days between now and the State Fair — and, if there’s a merciful God up there, somewhat cooler weather.
IndoChin Vietnamese Restaurant
Vietnamese on Grand Ave
1702 Grand Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55105
OWNERS: Ha Tu and Thu Nguyen
ENTREE RANGE: $8-15
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes