Le Colonial Elevates Atlanta’s Cuisine Scene
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Le Colonial Elevates Atlanta’s Cuisine Scene

Le Colonial brings French influenced Vietnamese cuisine to Atlanta.

After 35 years with the Atlanta newspapers, Marcia currently serves as Retail VP for the Buckhead Business Association, where she delivers news and trends (laced with a little gossip).

The bustling interior captures another place and time with Asian art, low-hanging fans and huge palm plants.
The bustling interior captures another place and time with Asian art, low-hanging fans and huge palm plants.

When Jewish Atlantans “glom” onto a new restaurant, it can be intense. That’s the case with The Shops of Buckhead’s Le Colonial, sister restaurant to the well established Le Bilboquet just feet away. With locations in many major U.S. cities, Le Colonial was a fast hit here. Local manager Neal Alvez, with experience at other Buckhead landmarks Bones and Chops, said, “We were busy right out of the gate. Finding a table can often be difficult.”

The inviting interior design of Le Colonial has low hanging black fans, table orchids, huge palm fronds, charcoal shuttered walls, mahogany millwork, a large lounge, veranda, and black and white photos reminiscent of 1920s Vietnam street scenes. French influence in Vietnam was primarily in Saigon, where diplomats roamed until 1954, when French rule ended. Le Colonial is a modern interpretation of classic Vietnamese cuisine.

On our Sunday night visit, the ultra-violet blue elevator up landed into a transformational scene. The food was so exceptional that we were “rocked.”

Taro chips accompany the tuna tartare over avocado, bounding with flavor.

What we went crazy over:

Spicy tuna tartare ($18) over avocado, sweet chili, soy caviar (not too salty but full of bounce).

Goi du du – Green papaya salad – a huge shredded mound to share. Pickled carrots, shallots, peanuts, Thai basil. Nuoc cham, a Vietnamese dipping sauce. Didn’t expect to like it. AMAZING!!

Ca Hoi Nuong – Miso glazed roasted salmon($28) over bok choy, shiitakes, annato oil. We deleted the lobster sauce.

Crispy Brussels sprouts – caramelized fish sauce, lemon, toasted peanuts ($10) Indescribably tasty.

Tim Nuong – Japanese eggplant, scallion oil, shallots, spicy basil-lime fish sauce. Very cool that the stems were on.

Elegant dessert – Poire Belle Helene – cinnamon poached pear, toasted almonds, warm Valrhona chocolate sauce, citrus and vanilla chantilly.

The Poire Belle Helene dessert is quite delicate with a surprise inside .

It was a bit off-putting to charge for rice, but who’s counting? Next time, we’d order the Signature crispy red snapper.

I got the chance to talk to Nicole Routhier, Le Colonial partner, culinary director, and French Vietnamese cookbook author. She is a native of Saigon and James Beard Award nominee whose mother is Vietnamese and her father, French.

AJT: Any local Georgian influences in Le Colonial’s menu?

NR: When starting a restaurant in a new location, our culinary approach was to maintain Le Colonial’s unique identity in the first year without too many menu changes. However, we search for and use as many locally sourced items as possible. We use olive oil from Georgia Olive Farms, chicken from Joyce Farms, and organic eggs from Greenway Farms. As the seasons change, we source local produce and herbs at their peak flavor.

A favorite dish was the side ($10) of peppers and Japanese eggplant. Note the stems are left on.

AJT: Authentic Vietnamese food is…

NR: Although Vietnamese shares similarities with and has been influenced by other Southeast Asian cuisines, it should not be confused with them. Much of its unique taste and delicate complexity come from the use of fresh herbs and aromatic spices. One charming characteristic of Vietnamese cuisine is the way we enjoy serving food at the table: we wrap or roll morsels of cooked food in rice paper or fresh lettuce, along with cooling herbs, then dip the bundle in spicy sauces and eat them by hand.

AJT: Describe some dishes that are French in origin versus traditionally Asian.

NR: Banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) is a good example. The French introduced the baguette, pâte, and mayonnaise, and the Vietnamese took it from there. Another example is Vietnamese coffee (ca phe sua da) which has its origin in café filtre.

Dishes that are traditionally Asian would be dumplings, curries, stir-fries, noodle bowls, etc.

AJT: Are we hitching onto a trend where Vietnamese food is soaring in popularity? How would you assess the Atlanta dining scene in terms of sophistication?

NR: Remember that Le Colonial opened in New York, Chicago and San Francisco in the 90s, along with other high-profile restaurants such as New York’s Indochine, San Francisco’s Slanted Door, Sacramento’s Lemon Grass, Connecticut’s and Florida’s Truc Orient Express serving refined Vietnamese cuisine. The real trend in my opinion is Western chefs borrowing from Vietnamese cuisine for their own menu inspirations.

As far as the Atlanta dining scene goes, I have been impressed by the variety, sophistication and quality of restaurants I have dined in during my visits here. ì

Le Colonial is located at 3035 Peachtree Road. Valet parking is out front. Up to three hours free parking is below and easy to access.

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