Arts & Entertainment

Restaurant Spotlight: Present Cuisine

restaurantPresent is one of those places I must have driven by a thousand times and never even glanced at. That ignorance was foolish at best and extra-foolish at worse, because despite being located in an unassuming mini-strip mall across from an IHOP, the folks in charge of Present know what they are doing and pack a surprisingly large and elegant interior into a small space. But what of the food?

restaurantPresent is one of those places I must have driven by a thousand times and never even glanced at. That ignorance was foolish at best and extra-foolish at worse, because despite being located in an unassuming mini-strip mall across from an IHOP, the folks in charge of Present know what they are doing and pack a surprisingly large and elegant interior into a small space. But what of the food?

The food, as it turns out, is authentically Vietnamese and pretty good, but remarkably inconsistent. Sure, I like the dizzying highs and terrifying lows like everyone else, but sometimes you need to have that creamy middle in order to avoid being labeled “bipolar.” This balance is best represented by the green paradise spring roll, a soft roll of rice paper filled with prawns and pork. Just to give you a heads up, almost all of these dishes have fairly ridiculous names which I hope are direct translations of the actual dish names and not just award-winning chef Luong Tran’s idea of messing with those of us not intelligent enough to speak Vietnamese.

The rainbows white cloud, for instance, is a confusing dish made of steamed rice cakes topped with dried shredded shrimp and bacon bits. By no means was it bad, but it didn’t have any effect on my taste buds. It’s almost as if the dish existed, but for no discernible reason other than to have another item on the menu. However, if the dishes are designed to exactly resemble their given names, then this appetizer succeeds perfectly.

The sophisticate golden chicken, essentially a fancy name for curry chicken with potatoes, yams and carrots, was also good, but lacked the spice that separates good curry dishes from great ones. While it is true that some places make their curry sauces hot enough to enable a person to see through time, Present went in the opposite direction and created a sauce that seemingly existed to be put on chicken. One of the people who I was gracious enough to share these dishes with complained that one piece of chicken was little more than a bone that somehow managed to have a few scraps of chicken on it, but I actually respected the lack of uniformity among the chicken pieces.

However, don’t think for a minute that Present is entirely bland. The shrimp at the seaside dish, a simple combination of shrimp, garlic, fish sauce and black pepper, is virtually perfect. Perfectly spicy without going over the top and great over rice, this dish is one that is worth going back for.

For vegetarians/vegans, you’ll be happy to know that not only is there a decent-sized menu, but that the dishes on it are good enough for heartless meat-eating monsters to enjoy. The strolling in a lemongrass field (believe it or not, these are not even close to being the most oddly named dishes on the menu) is just fried tofu in a spicy lemongrass sauce, but it packs so much flavor that even the most hardened tofu-haters will be forced to recognize the deliciousness of this dish.

Present clearly has good qualities in both interior decorating and food preparation, but such a highly lauded place like this needs to gain consistency in all dishes if they want to survive the cutthroat restaurant business. But with a few more spices, I have a feeling this place will be around for a long while.

Present Cuisine is located at 6678 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church. For more information, call 703-531-1881 or visit presentcuisine.com. Restaurant hours are Monday – Thursday: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., 5 – 10 p.m.; Friday – Saturday: 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.; and Sunday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.