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East/West Kitchen

Balancing act 

East/West Kitchen

East/West Kitchen's take on fusion is unexpected: Vietnamese meets Russian meets American. This seems to be a result of its owners' respective heritages and backgrounds — Alex Zapesochny brings Russian influences; Thuan Pham and Tai Lee bring Vietnamese flavors. It's also co-owned by Andrea Lanphere, and her son, Keith Finch, is the executive chef.

A young restaurant with a collision of cuisines is bound to have hits and misses, and so it is for East/West Kitchen. First, the big hit: I can't say enough about the pho with Rare Beef ($5.95 for a small; $7.95 for the large), the best local pho I've tasted. The broth is a delicious balance of sweet and sour, layered with complexity. Though Sriracha and brown bean sauce are available for extra seasoning, they're not necessary — 12 hours of simmering beef bones with different Vietnamese herbs and spices, renders the broth near-perfect.

Topping the broth are slices of beef, which shift from rare pink to pale brown in the soup's heat, but don't toughen. The fiber-thin rice noodles are tender without being mushy, and soak up the broth's flavor. Garnishes on the side — crunchy fresh bean sprouts and deep, almost anise-like Thai basil — add layers of flavor and texture.

Two Russian-style sides, the East/West potato salad and the Slavic slaw (both $2.95), are both very good. The potato salad starts with small firm cubes of potato cut a little smaller than playing dice. They're tossed with a mayo based dressing that's just creamy enough; vinegar prevents it from becoming cloying. The salad is dotted with sweet peas for a touch of color and contrast. For something as simple as potato salad, it's surprising that not many places get the balance of flavors right, but East/West Kitchen does.

The same goes for the Slavic slaw. Here, there's no mayo in sight: its dressing is powerful with an edge of sweetness from what tastes to be apple cider vinegar and a touch of white sugar. The white cabbage is chopped into uniform strips, and stays crisp. Shredded carrots, and red and yellow bell peppers add splashes of color and a bit more sweetness. Overall, the slaw reminds me of a mild sauerkraut. It's refreshing and a nice palate cleanser, especially when eaten with heavier dishes on the menu, like the steamed Eurasian dumplings or the cheeseburger eggrolls.

The side order of dumplings ($2.95; also available fried and as a starter for $5.95) are small and triangular, like meatballs pressed into pyramids and tightly wrapped in a thin dough. On their own, they are plain, which is faithful in style to pelmeni, a traditional Russian meat dumpling. Here, they're perked up by the sweet Asian-inspired dipping sauce on the side, which tasted like a mix of soy sauce, ginger, and hoisin.

There are several of East-meets-West style eggrolls on the menu: Buffalo chicken, Philly cheesesteak, Cuban sandwich, and for dessert, cheesecake or apple pie.  But East/West Kitchen calls itself "the home of the cheeseburger eggroll" ($5.95), where it blends ground beef and cheddar cheese, tucks them into an eggroll wrapper, and deep fries the whole shebang. The filling is plain: there's no sharpness to the cheddar and no kick to the spices. The eggroll wrapper stays doughy near the filling and the folded seams, and doesn't provide a satisfying crunch. An accompanying side of ketchup perked things up a bit, but doesn't push the eggrolls to their full potential of being an awesome fried cheeseburger. Instead of ketchup, a side of Russian dressing, a few pickles, and chopped lettuce, tomato and onion for garnish could push this from an okay appetizer to a worthy guilty pleasure.

The quality of service at East/West Kitchen is, at times, problematic. On my first visit, I had to make an effort to get a waiter's attention to be seated, even though the restaurant was relatively empty. I had a similar problem at the end of the meal: the waiter chatted with the only other two customers while I waited 10 minutes for the bill.  But the next visit was completely different. My partners and I were greeted and seated immediately. Our waitress was attentive and friendly, making sure to answer any questions, and was prompt in bringing our drinks, meals, dessert, and check.

Lanphere was apologetic when I mentioned the poor service, and said she would address it in staff training. East/West Kitchen is just six months old, so more time may smooth its rough edges. Let's hope so — pho as carefully prepared as East/West Kitchen's shouldn't be diminished by an indifferent waiter.

You can find Laura Rebecca Kenyon on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest @LauraKenyon, and can dig through her recipe archive at LauraRebeccasKitchen.com.

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