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Denver-spawned Viet’s challenges diners, competition 

A plate apart?

click to enlarge Viet’s House 50/50 isn’t a typical dish. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Viet’s House 50/50 isn’t a typical dish.

I am online searching for snails.

Not just any snails — but a specific large and green-shelled snail (land, or sea?) served to me at Viet’s Restaurant, a new Springs offshoot of a decade-plus old spot on Denver’s Federal Boulevard. That street hosts some of Denver’s most legit ethnic and specifically Asian eateries, where gringo palates are quickly tested.

Anyway, I simply can’t find a photo of my snails anywhere to confirm a source, and even a call to Viet’s only yields an “I don’t know, sir” to my query. Well, damn, I guess I’ll let the mystery go, because even after a butter bath with green onions and a crumbled peanut garnish and a dip into a highly sour, semi-sweet fish-sauce construct of some sort, these snails don’t exactly win me over like the escargot of so many fine French eateries. (For what it’s worth, more productive web research indicates that snail-eating in Vietnam isn’t a product of French colonization and cuisine fusion like the banh mi sandwich — their consumption dates back further and they’re a highly popular street food.)

The pungent dip alone shocks the mouth, and these snails are rather chewy and difficult to pry from the shell. But, in the same way that one’s glad to have tried something while traveling to broaden a horizon a bit, I’m pleased these are available to Springs diners.

Location Details Viet’s Restaurant
7640 N. Academy Blvd.
Academy (North)
Colorado Springs, CO
719/465-2681
10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, except for Wednesdays

The first page of Viet’s long menu, labeled “appetizers/specials,” hosts many more plates not commonly seen in the Springs; from there it continues down familiar paths with pho, bun, rice plates and soups plus a respectably lengthy vegetarian and vegan list. I eschew that to try another starter of lamb chops, a trio, grilled to a char on the edges and cooked with lemongrass (the only ingredient listed, which doesn’t show up strong) and basted in some sort of sweet glaze. Some fat pockets clinging to the bone’s underside are pure heaven while the rest of the meat’s a little tougher toward a medium-well, but a dip into a sticky nuoc cham sauce adds some tangy-sweet personality and an underlying cabbage salad notably bursts with purple shiso leaf’s astringent citrus notes.

That same shiso garnish plays a pivotal role along with mint and cilantro while wrapping our own spring rolls via an order of the Viet’s House 50/50 ($26.95 being a “more than half” order of the $44.95 Viet’s House that I presume feeds four to five people as ours easily feeds two). This is the item spotlighted on Viet’s homepage, where they refer to themselves as the “unsung emperor of Vietnamese restaurants, the handsome prince among the plebes of Federal Boulevard.” (Wow, fightin’ words.)

A perfect date-night offering, the 50/50 makes for an interactive experience, dipping rice paper wrappers into warm water then assembling spring roll variations with all the herbs plus bean sprouts, vermicelli, cucumber slices, crispy fried soft-shell crab, shrimp three ways, and tangy pork. Excellent minced pork egg rolls complete the wheel of items almost overhanging the plate.

We pair our plate with a nice floral lychee lemonade and chanh muoi, potent, salty lemonade made by sweetening salt-preserved lemons, which makes the nearly saline-viscous drink more palatable. That salt does enhance many of the food flavors and both drinks refresh.

We depart pretty happy, perhaps not convinced of Viet’s “unsung emperor” status, but encouraged enough to say their arrival on the Springs scene holds value for those seeking a little adventure — whichever snail that may entail.

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