I think this restaurant has a simple premise:
Serve traditional street-food dishes of Hanoi...without the street
This is probably the best restaurant to take your out-of-town friends and family to who really want to try all the local favorites...but don't want the noise, discomfort, and questionable sanitation of the street or small vendors.
Traditionally made Vietnamese...just executed better than 99% of the street or small-shop vendors. Truly, the Pho, Banh Cuon and grilled meats are very good. I imagine this is what the original (and long-past) Quan-Ngon might have been created to be. A great place to try all the standards as they were meant to be done. The non-Vietnamese food was OK, but unimpressive and seemed more like an after-thought aimed at appealing to a local crowd.
Attentive in a way you miss in Hanoi and yet not suffocating. Although I admit that one quiet evening we had a waitress hover a little close until the manager stepped in to have her relocate a bit further off.
It's good. I like the old French villa setting and sitting outside is great when the weather's nice (similar to the original Madame Hien). The interior is tasteful and not crowded but can feel a bit quiet when it's empty and a bit loud when it's full (similar to the original Madame Hien).
I'm not usually a fan of buffets but Corlou has got this one right. With the closure of a buffet on Nguyen Thai Hoc (the name escapes me), I'd vote for Madame Hien Buffet as the top Vietnamese buffet in town.
The lunch buffet is cheaper but omits the grilled meats. Go for dinner.
The bottled beer options are a little thin and rather expensive.
The wine by the glass was good and moderately priced.
It seems like DC hasn't done a great job defining this restaurant. While I think it's a great place for out-of-towners seeking traditional VN food, it seems like it's targeted more at locals and ex-pats. Really, of all of DC's restaurants* this is the one which feels a little lacking in vision.
*I should mention that I haven't had an opportunity to have dinner at La Verticale yet. If you're searching for a present...I'd enjoy a gift certificate!
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