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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Portland
Food
Feel
Price
7.0
7.5
$40
Pan-Asian, Vietnamese
Upmarket restaurant

Hours
Mon–Sat 11:00am–3:00pm
Mon–Sat 5:00pm–10:00pm

Features Date-friendly, good wines, outdoor dining
Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Accepted

www.silkbyphovan.com

Pearl District
1012 NW Glisan St.
Portland, OR
(503) 248-2172
Silk Vietnamese Bistro
Vietnamese done totally Pearl style—if that’s your thing

Silk, by the owners of the successful, upscale Pho Van empire, is the Pearl’s inevitable answer to Vietnamese. So it’s no surprise that it’s a little over the top. To one side, there’s a bar with a very studied hip and trendy feel that reminds us of a W Hotel lounge. Cream-colored furnishings look brand spanking new, and the spotless walls undulate with 3D textured hangings. Similarly breezy are long, flowing curtains in brown and black, and hanging, shimmering lamps of white shells. Doesn’t all this make you feel like eating Vietnamese?

But the menu isn’t strictly Vietnamese; it’s actually pretty pan-Asian. Pho is not the focus here—there are only two on this menu, and they’re among the most dumbed-down, boring protein combos in the entire real Pho Van repertoire. Elsewhere, there are appearances from kaffir lime leaf (which appears in nearly everything), lemongrass (ditto), peanut sauce, and ginger, but ultimately this restaurant only skims the surface of the cuisines of this incredible region. Where is the soul (and heart, intestines, and blood)?

Still, dishes are plated beautifully, and the simpler the explanation, the better; a sea bass steamed in banana leaves, for instance, is moist and flaky, with a subtle flavor from scallions and ginger. But for more than $22? This premium is clearly being charged for the space, not the food. There are some decent spring rolls and vermicelli dishes here, but nothing you’d want to skip a cheaper, less fussy pho place for.

Perhaps most telling is the line of Pho-Van-branded sauces that greet you at the front, each with a picture of the chef smiling proudly, like a Vietnamese Emeril. The line-up includes a garlic-lemongrass marinade, “Creamy Peanut,” and something coyly referred to as “House Special,” which upon further examination reveals itself to be based on fish sauce, an indispensable element of Vietnamese cuisine. Why the camouflage? Is Pho Van afraid Americans aren’t sophisticated and cultured enough to appreciate fish sauce by its real name? This doesn’t inspire confidence.

You’re better off coming for the discounted items during the 4–9:30pm “silky hour” (sounds kind of prurient), but only if you like sugary sweet cocktails made with Sour Apple Pucker and the like. We’d stick, instead, to a smartly chosen, terse wine list of mostly appropriate bargain wines made by some very reputable small producers—or even a brief beer selection that includes an excellent cherry lambic. Now if only we could find something to eat with it that’s as exciting.

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