I tend to not play favorites, but Le Colonial has long been one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago. Located in the Gold Coast and open since 2005, Le Colonial evokes French colonial Southeast Asia from the 1920s through its decor and authentic Vietnamese cuisine. The first floor, with its high ceilings, large windows, light hues, shutters, and palm trees, is the perfect setting for a relaxing and delicious dinner with family or a group of friends. The second floor houses a large mahogany bar which serves up the best lychee martinis around. A lounge offers comfortable sofas and low tables for pre- or post-dinner drinks or light bites. My favorite place, however, is the all-season terrace that overlooks the excitement of Rush Street, below. In the summer, it is open air with delicate ceiling fans cooling the balcony.
I recently returned for dinner with a large group which enabled me to try not only my old favorites, but some dishes that were new to me, as well. The menu has not changed much since I first started visiting, but as the adage goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
To begin, we ordered the Chao Tom – grilled shrimp wrapped around sugar cane with angel hair noodle, lettuce, and mint, along with peanut dipping sauce. This dish is interactive, inviting diners to create their own lettuce wraps with the various ingredients. In addition, we also started with the Goi Cuon – soft salad rolls of shrimp, rice vermicelli noodles, lettuce, bean sprouts, and aromatic herbs, all wrapped in rice paper and served with a peanut plum dipping sauce. Both of these dishes are light and healthy and are nicely shared, or could even make for a not-so-filling dinner for one.
Other starters that were winners at our table were the Tom Cuon Ram – crisp beignets stuffed with shrimp, chicken, and vegetables, served with orange ginger dipping sauce, as well as the Bahn Cuon – steamed Vietnamese ravioli of chicken and mushrooms with chili lime garlic sauce.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the Sup Man Cua – asparagus and crabmeat soup in a clear broth with fresh herbs. This soup was fantastic and I cannot believe I have never tried it before. Better late than never!
For our entrees, our table shared a number of fantastic dishes. Among the best were the Banh Pho Xao – rice noodles sauteed with soy sauce, bean sprouts, green onions, red peppers, and garlic chili sauce, served with a choice of beef, chicken, tofu, or shrimp, as well as the Tom Xao Sate – jumbo shrimp, asparagus, onions, and scallions, sauteed in a light sate spice, chili, and garlic sauce. These were far better than the Ca Hap – steamed fillets of Chilean seabass with cellphane noodles, oyster mushrooms, tomatoes, scallions, and fried ginger in a light ginger broth. The quality of the sea bass was not up to par and the flavors did not compare to the other dishes.
For side dishes, I enjoyed the Ca Tim Nuong – grilled Japanese eggplant in a spicy basil lime fish sauce, as well as the Com Chien Tom – house fried rice with shrimp and vegetables.
Overall, our dinner was tremendous. Our server was knowledgeable and made excellent recommendations based upon the size of our group, certain food allergies or intolerances, and dietary restrictions. He also allowed us to try a few different types of wine before we found our winner.
Le Colonial is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, and I recommend it for a group or friends, a date, or even a nice work dinner.
937 North Rush Street, Chicago 60611