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A Diner’s Journal

Redd Restaurant


Annalien - NOW CLOSED

By Stacey Bressler

THIS RESTAURANT HAS CLOSED!

Glory!  Hallelujah!  My prayers have been answered!  Finally, Napa Valley has a really good Asian restaurant.  There have been a few noble attempts and some Asian-influenced contenders, but Annalien is truly a Vietnamese jewel.  Since moving up here almost six years ago, I have been looking for a place that serves consistently good Asian food.  Until Annalien opened in July, I had to travel to Santa Rosa for wonderful Chinese food (Kirin) or Rohnert Park for great Japanese fare (Hana).  But now I need go no further than Napa to satisfy my cravings.  And judging from the crowds at Annalien, I am not alone in ending my search.

Every dish I’ve had at Annalien has been good and several have been outstanding.  In the “small plates” category the stand-outs are the Ha Long Bread ($6) and the Vietnamese Potstickers ($9).  The Ha Long “bread” is really more of a scallion pancake and the dipping sauce is divine.  I usually ask for a spoon and finish the dipping sauce long after the bread has gone.  The potstickers are actually a bit doughier than I prefer, but they are so perfectly seasoned and beautifully presented that I love them in spite of their flaws.  The Napa Valley Aubergines ($9) is another of my favorites, but since my husband won’t touch eggplant I can only order this when others are with us.  Crispy rolls are good ($8 for either the shrimp and pork or the vegetarian variety), but not distinguished.  We found the Spring rolls ($9 for shrimp, wild salmon, or vegetarian) to be a bit bland for our palates, though others in our group really liked them.  Our favorite of the salads is the Dalat Spicy Beef ($10) and we order it almost every time we go to Annalien.

It’s hard to beat the Lemongrass Soup ($10 for prawns or chicken) on a cold evening, although the Ginger Dumpling Soup ($9) comes in a pretty close second.  The hot spicy soups are amazingly restorative and can certainly cure my winter blahs.  Pho Bo and Pho Ga (beef/chicken for $10) are really more noodle entrées than soups.  If you order Pho and a salad or small plate it is certainly enough for light meal.  But then you’d miss out on some of my favorite entrées.

It’s hard to pick the most outstanding entrée because so many are so good!  The Sea Bass steamed in a banana leaf ($20) is sweet, succulent, and perfectly combined with Shitake mushrooms, tomatoes, and glass noodles.  The Shaken Beef ($19) is a traditional Vietnamese preparation of tender beef cubes and onions and is terrific.  For chicken, it’s hard to choose between the 1142 Curry ($15), a wonderful stew-like dish in coconut milk, and the fragrantly delicious Spicy Lemongrass Chicken ($15).  I’d suggest bringing more people and having both or having the chicken curry and the Grilled Lemongrass Pork ($14).  I must also mention the Lavender Sea Salt Rack of Lamb ($23) which drew rave reviews from the crowd.  No matter which entrée you choose, do not forget to order a side of the garlic noodles ($7).  Wow!  OK, they may not be the best choice if you are on a first date, but you certainly won’t have to worry about vampires.  I could make a meal of the garlic noodles with some of the dipping sauce left from the Ha Long Bread.  The Asian Style Green Beans ($8) are a nice vegetable addition to any meal.  I confess that I have not tried the Vegetarian entrées, but I am willing to bet they are good since many have the same sauces as their non-vegetarian counterparts (curry, lemongrass).  

Since I have usually used up my weekly allocation of carbohydrates on the bread and noodles before we get to desserts, my knowledge is weak in this area.  A “bombe” with sorbet dipped in white chocolate was rapidly consumed at our table on one of my visits, and everyone seemed to love it.  The chocolate mousse cake disappeared, too.

Annalien has both wine and beer available – I usually drink the latter with Vietnamese food – and a nice selection of teas as well as Vietnamese coffee (too sweet for my taste, but my husband likes it).  And of course there are sodas and waters, too.  The restaurant will only take reservations for parties of six or more.  There is a small bar area and full meals are served at the bar, too.  Annalien is deservedly popular, so there is often a wait.  Fortunately, this part of Napa has lots of interesting things to do if you do find yourself having to wait.  The new Rocca Wines tasting room is only a few doors away.

Annalien
1142 Main Street
Napa, CA 94559
707-224-8319

January, 2006

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