Arts & Entertainment

Restaurant Spotlight: Four Sisters

Don’t let the new location fool you. Although they left Eden Center, Four Sisters is still one of the best Vietnamese restaurants outside of Vietnam. In their new Merrifield digs, Four Sisters still offers traditional cuisine that is hard to find elsewhere. Four-Sisters-Le-Lai-008.jpg

They also offer a level of comfort and elegant, understated style in a dining room that finally matches the perfection of the kitchen.

They still serve Pho in authentic Saigon style, but the booths are now upholstered in soft canvas and leather, giving this gem of a restaurant the presentation it deserves. Four Sisters is still a family-run restaurant, and the owners still seat you and often check up on you during the meal.

The new home feels even homier than the old location. From the jumbo Santa Fe yellow ceramic floor tiles that match the the two-toned ceiling to the fresh red flower displays along the half-wall that makes each section of the dining room just a little bit more intimate, everything is simple and excellent. This is also, incidentally, a great description of the food.

While the menu reaches 159 choices without counting beverages and desserts, it’s easy to stick with simple, familiar favorites. They offer everything from roast quail served with lime dip ($8.95) or squid sautéed with pineapple and bell peppers ($13.95) to a delicious young lotus root salad with shrimp and pork ($10.95), you’re just as sure to be satisfied with Shrimp Wonton Soup ($4.50).

Fresh garden rolls with peanut sauce ($3.95) are a classic way to begin a Vietnamese meal. Stuffed with rice vermicelli, fresh mint and fresh lemon grass that beautifully overhangs on one end, these garden rolls are a triumph of al dente perfection.

Available with your choice of crisp, lightly sautéed tofu or shrimp and pork, garden rolls start any meal off right with the feel of cool, fresh pasta and the flavor of two excellent herbs. The accompanying peanut sauce may be a complex creation, but the flavor is simple, almost all sweetness with just a distant touch of spice, like a photograph of a summer day. The flavor blends perfectly with the garden rolls to create an ideal finger snack and whets the appetite for your choice of main course.

For simpler tastes, tofu and mixed vegetables over flat wide rice noodles ($10.95) provides a mix of simple flavors, with baby corn, waffle-cut carrots, mushroom slices, fresh red pepper and crisp green pea pods.

The noodles are luxuriously wide, qualifying as papardelle by Italian standards, but cooked in a style more similar to the popular Thai dish, Pad See Ew. That is, once the noodles have been boiled, they are lightly fried and then topped with a sauce. In this case the sauce is a soulful starch reduction, whose themes of sugar and spice provide a simple, unifying counterpoint to the vegetables.

An enticing strength of the menu is the clay pot dishes. Clay pot cooking uses unglazed clay pots soaked in water which release steam as the food cooks. This yields particularly moist and tender results. Four Sisters offers pork, beef, fish or tofu cooked in clay pots with an excellent lemongrass and chili sauce. The sauce centers on crushed red chili peppers, complimented by the same fresh lemongrass taste as the garden rolls.

Mixed with rice, the dish packs about the same amount of heat as a plate of nachos. The difference is that the spice isn’t concentrated in minuscule, overpowering jalapeños, but spread throughout a delicious meal, so that the heat grows on you pleasantly with each bite. First it warms your palate; next, it warms your toes and finally, it warms your heart.

Four Sisters

8190 Strawberry Lane, Suite 1

Falls Church, Va.

Open daily, 11 a.m. – 9:45 p.m.