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One and Not Done: Indochine Cafe
Typically, I like to try to get in at least two visits to an eatery before I attempt to do a writeup. There are exceptions to this rule: one lies in giving a little love to new eatery that shows a lot of promise (such as the newly opened Leone's Pizza, detailed in my last blog post.) Other exceptions to this rule lie on places that are noteworthy but aren't likely to get back to soon through distance (e.g. eateries visited during vacation travels) or a combo of special occasion and cost (a place such as San Francisco's Boulevard, where we had a special Christmas dinner a few years back.)
One last exception is sort of a gut call, and in this case it's mainly due to one dish that just simply knocked our proverbial culinary socks off. This dish has guaranteed we'll be back soon to this relative veteran of the area's culinary scene: Whitehall's Indochine Cafe.
Really, there aren't too many surprises in this nearly 11-year-old Laotian and Vietnamese-oriented restaurant, and I imagine things haven't changed too much since it took over this old El Azteca Mexican restaurant location. The interior of this 1960s-era building is more functional than fancy, but it is updated and clean enough to raise Indochine past hole-in-the-wall status.
Along with some of the familiar Vietnamese items like bahn mi sandwiches, various pho soups and rice dishes, intriguing Laotian items dot the menu such as the Thi Bit Tet (grilled steak with bitter or ginger sauce) and two variations of Bahn Cahn (Laotian noodle soups.) Two of the items were Vietnamese-styled favorites of ours we have had at other restaurants in town - a large two-item bahn mi (more than enough food for one person; we took home half of the sandwich as leftovers) and the Bun Cha Gio Thit Heo Nuong (rice vermicelli with grilled pork and chopped up spring rolls (again, we took home some for leftovers.)
Unfortunately, these two items, which came later in our meal, never had a chance to truly impress, because we opened our meal with this beauty:
This, my friends, is the Laotian-style Goi Thit Bo. This seemingly simple combination of grilled beef, herbs and sweet onion, adorned with chili pepper and lime was a truly wonderful mix of crunch, chew, heat and tang. While it wasn't listed, there was also just a touch of fishy funk (from some oyster sauce or patis I imagine) that was the perfect complementary culinary cherry on top that had both our mouths singing in delight. It would be VERY easy to default to this dish in the future, but we are determined to test out some of the other salad and Laotian-styled dishes on upcoming visits. We'll might even grab a nice Asian-origin lager (Indochine has bottles from Singha, Chang, 33, Beer Lao and Hue available) rather than the strong iced coffee or tea drinks that are often our defaults.
We have heard the reputation that service is often slow at Indochine, and that proved to be the case on our visit. Those who are looking to avoid this issue are best served ordering ahead for pickup (there were plenty of those type orders being processed during our visit here.) However, in many ways the slow pace of service is a reflection of one of the best things about this eatery. Indochine's owners, Amp and Phuong Mai, are some of the most warm and welcoming people we have encountered in our restaurant visits, mingling among and joking with us and the rest of that day's gathered diners (many of whom seemed to be longtime regulars from the neighborhood.)
So forget about the clock for awhile: go to Indochine, kick back and relax, and you'll almost certainly be rewarded with a warm welcome and some delectable cookery.
561 S Hamilton Rd
Whitehall, OH 43213
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