After being forced to delay their original opening because of Winter Storm Nemo, this Monday, February 25th, Lan Chi’s Vietnamese restaurant opened the doors of their Main Street restaurant for the first time.
After seeing a sign for the upcoming eatery back in October, chatting with owner Chu Ngo a little later that month, and assisting with their search for a mural painter and serving staff, WesStuffed has had a pretty long history with this restaurant, so you can imagine our excitement at the prospect of finally walking into their bright dining room and trying the food.
Finally, last night was that night. At 8:06 PM, my friend Miranda and I scurried out of the rain and into the warm, inviting space that is Lan Chi’s. The restaurant is made up of a vast room with a bar at the front and tables at the back. The walls are adorned with ancient Vietnamese instruments, except for one that holds a beautiful mural of a temple.
As soon as we entered, a super friendly waitress (one of the many Wesleyan students who works there) led us to our table. For a rainy Wednesday night, the restaurant had a fair amount of patrons. A few others were Wesleyan students, but there were several locals enjoying the fair as well.
Although I don’t usually order drinks at restaurants, our waitress highly recommended we try the Indian tonic water. A few minutes later, she came over carrying two bottles of “Fever-Tree” lemon tonic water.
“They get their ingredients from all over the world to make sure that they’re always getting the best”, our waitress informed us.
The drink was delicious. The lemon flavor was light and refreshing. It was just a tad sweeter than lemon seltzer, but not as sweet as a typical soda or lemonade. It probably would have complemented the freshness of the food, but I wouldn’t know because I chugged it down within seconds of its arrival at our table.
For appetizers, Miranda and I shared crispy shrimp balls and shrimp spring rolls. Both of them were fantastic. The shrimp balls featured whole, fresh shrimps wrapped in a light, flaky shell. Our one complaint was that they weren’t served with sauce, but just as we began to articulate this to each other, our server brought out some hoisin sauce.
“It’s not served with the dish, but it is really good with them,” she told us.
She was absolutely right.
The spring rolls were delicate and fresh. Like the shrimp balls, they were served on a plate adorned with colorful vegetables. These came with a homemade peanut sauce, which did wonders to their already delicious flavor.
For entrees, Miranda ordered vegetarian vermicelli, a rice noodle dish served with lemongrass and tofu. I got chicken pho.
The portions are large but definitely not too overwhelming to finish. Like everything else on the menu, one of the most notable elements of these dishes were their freshness. The rice noodles, all of which were slightly different in size, appeared to be made in house from scratch.
The chicken broth in the pho was sublime. In fact, I was feeling slightly sick before we came to Lan Chi’s, and just sipping the broth made me feel better. It is served with a side of bean sprouts, as well as several sauces, including sriracha, hoisin, and one other incredibly spicy sauce. I definitely recommend adding a little of each of them to your soup.
I should point out here that Miranda is gluten free and a pescatarian, and she had absolutely no trouble with this menu. Along with several vegetarian dishes in all the sections, there is also a whole category dedicated to vegetarian meals. In addition, since rice is definitely the predominant grain on the menu, one would be hard-pressed to find any dish that contains any gluten at all.
As she took away our plates, our waitress suggested that we try the dessert special. Obviously we complied.
What she brought out was unlike anything else we had ever eaten. A glass cup with red and yellow beans on the bottom, a green, gelatin-like noodle in the middle, anc crushed ice soaked in coconut milk with one apple slice on the top. To be honest, I was extremely hesitant about eating this. Never in my life had I expected to eat noodles, beans, and ice as dessert. That being said, it was pretty satisfying! It had the refreshing, crisp taste of everything else on the menu, and a very subtle sweetness that cleansed your palate. Neither of us loved the beans, but it was clear that they were fresh and well-made.
As we left Lan Chi’s, rather than feeling ridiculously stuffed, we felt energized and (guess what word I’m about to use) refreshed. Unlike some other restaurants in town, this eatery offers a welcoming, opened space that’s perfect for dinner with the parents, a date, or just a night with friends. Its slightly less expensive than many of the other restaurants in town, but based on the quality and freshness of the food, we can understand why. From the bright, clean ambiance to the super-friendly staff to the delicious healthy food, we’re sure that Lan Chi’s is going to become both a Wesleyan and a Middletown staple.
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