4 Fleur
Average check per person $25-$35
BreakfastNo Breakfast SundayNo Breakfast MondayNo Breakfast TuesdayNo Breakfast WednesdayNo Breakfast ThursdayNo Breakfast FridayNo Breakfast Saturday
LunchNo Lunch SundayLunch MondayLunch TuesdayLunch WednesdayLunch ThursdayLunch FridayNo Lunch Saturday
DinnerNo Dinner SundayDinner MondayDinner TuesdayDinner WednesdayDinner ThursdayDinner FridayDinner Saturday

Cafe Minh

Mid-City: 4139 Canal. 504-482-6266. Map.
Nice Casual.
AE DC DS MC V
Website

WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
This is the Commander’s Palace of Vietnamese restaurants, bringing superb local foodstuffs and Creole flavors to bear on dishes based on–but not beholden to–the Asian palette. Although it looks like a neighborhood restaurant from the outside, it surprises first-timers with its sophistication and polish. Do not come here with the idea of getting a gallon of pho for five bucks.

WHAT’S GOOD
Minh Bui’s and Cynthia Tran’s brilliant cooking pulls together Vietnamese, Thai, French, and Creole flavors into a deliciously unique menu, with heavy reliance on Louisiana ingredients. Fusion dishes are always a little risky, but here they always work perfectly. Beyond that, the chef works at the gourmet level in terms of his raw materials, techniques, and presentations. This is always exciting food.

BACKSTORY
Minh Bui left his native Vietnam in a boat with others trying to get to the United States in the 1970s. After time in a refugee camp, he made it. He turned up in New Orleans, worked as a waiter at Commander’s Palace, and opened a series of restaurants (two Lemon Grass Cafés and 56 Degrees) before taking over the Katrina-flooded former Michael’s Mid-City Grill and turning it into Cafe Minh. Chef Cynthia Tran–who had been in the kitchen not just here but in the downtown Lemon Grass Cafe–has been an equal force in the restaurant since day one.

DINING ROOM
It’s bright, light, and designed with modern Asian themes. Panels of translucent panes allow light to move through and serve to block the wind when the front door opens. Tables are set beautifully, and the staff is omnipresent. Larry Nguyen, the maitre d’, hews to standards of the gourmet bistro.

ESSENTIAL DISHES
Starters
»Crabmeat and sweet corn soup
Mixed green salad
»Summer roll (shrimp, avocado, cucumber, cilantro, rice noodles)
Spring roll (chopped chicken, citrus sauce)
»Trio of meat satays (chicken, beef, pork)
»Café Minh shrimp (noodle-wrapped, fried, chili dipping sauce)
Shrimp dumpling
Beggar’s purses (shrimp, pork, spicy soy)
»Coconut shrimp
»Crab cake, wasabi rémoulade
»Diver scallops, Japanese eggplant, sweet chili-soy)
»Crispy nutty oysters
Sandwiches (lunch only)
Grilled portobello mushroom
Open face crispy eggplant, fresh mozzarella
»Sautéed garlic beef
Charcoal-grilled pork
»Tempura five-spice chicken breast
Kobe beef burger
Lunch entrees
Honey glaze chicken, Asian slaw, and jasmine rice
»Vietnamese barbecue catfish, vegetables, jasmine rice
»Grilled pork chop, cabbages, jasmine rice
Entree salads
Grilled shrimp, lettuce, rice noodles
Tempura shrimp, mixed greens, basil-cilantro vinaigrette
Grilled or tempura chicken, baby lettuce, rice noodles
Cornmeal crusted shrimp or oyster Caesar
»Blackened jumbo scallops, triple sesame vinaigrette
»Yellowfin tuna niçoise
»Asian pears, baby lettuce, Stilton, candied walnuts
Entrees
»Gà roti (grilled chicken, vegetables or baby greens, jasmine rice)
»Lacquered five-spice duck
Oven roasted Asian-marinated pork tenderloin
Braised Asian short ribs
Grilled ribeye of beef, red wine demi
»Rack of lamb, artichoke au gratin, plum demi
»Mermaid flounder basket
»Red curry shrimp, angel hair pasta
Seafood pasta (shrimp, scallops, crawfish)
»Minh’s bouillabaisse
»Chef’s soup (shrimp, scallops, roast pork, wontons)
Shanghai soup (roast pork, wontons, vegetables, egg noodles)
»Spicy beef udon soup
Veggie soup
Stir-fry tofu, seasonal vegetables, served jasmine rice
Tofu roti

FOR BEST RESULTS
Leave your past experience in other Vietnamese restaurants behind. Cafe Minh is as much like them as bouillabaisse is like noodle soup.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The restaurant occasionally has a nobody’s-home feeling, although staff appears when needed to take care of anything you need. (I think the servers help in the preparation of some dishes.)

FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.

  • Dining Environment +2
  • Consistency +2
  • Service+1
  • Value +1
  • Attitude +1
  • Wine & Bar +1
  • Hipness +2
  • Local Color +1

 

SPECIAL ATTRIBUTES

  • Romantic
  • Good for business meetings
  • 8-25
  • Open Monday lunch and dinner
  • Easy, nearby parking
  • Reservations recommended

ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
The best chefs working in exotic cuisines have an almost intractable problem: everybody who tries the restaurant for the first time walks in with the belief that their past experience with the cuisine will be duplicated. It throws them when it’s different even in tiny details–even if the restaurant is much better than they’re used to, as is the Vietnamese food at Cafe Minh. It’s really a problem if the prices reflect increments in the pedigree of the raw materials. If this is you I’m describing, see if you can get past those blockades to your enjoyment of this uniquely fine Asian bistro.


2 Readers Commented

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  1. Bill on June 14, 2015

    This cozy restaurant has become my ” go to” place. Always friendly and accommodating staff, and the food never disappoints. We have never had anything but a great dining experience here——–they are a bit busier than in the past. The word must have gotten out!

  2. Keith on April 6, 2016

    Time for an update on Cafe Minh. Larry Nguyen is no longer here, he is the maitre d’ / manager at Toups Meatery.

    thanks –
    Keith

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