Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Present: A Diamond in the Rough on Route 50

About a week ago -- yes this is a bit of a delayed review, friends suggested we try Present (, a highly-rated Vietnamese restaurant located in the suburbs of DC on the infamous route 50. I had actually been intrigued by this place, as Tom Sietsema gave it three stars in the Washington Post Fall Dining Guide, a really high rating, putting it on par with some great area restaurants. But I was put off by its location, as I prefer heading downtown verses out to strip-mall on what can only be described as suburban sprawl hell. But I gave in and can't believe I am typing this but the trip down route 50 on a Saturday night was worth it.

The outside of the restaurant is not much to look at, but inside is actually quite pleasant with a bamboo-toned dining room with a water feature in the center.

The service at Present is top notch. Our friend who made the reservation was greeted by name when she stated her reservation time, and while the table was not quite ready, the host graciously offered us menus and escorted us to a small waiting area. The servers take great care in describing every dish and explaining how best to eat each creation when as they put it, "Once you are ready to enjoy..." As an example, we were instructed to enjoy a beef entree by tapping the beef only once--but never twice--into the accompanying sauce for maximum enjoyment.

The menu items are all named with interesting sounding titles -- like Fish in Shallow Water, Basking on a Sandy Beach, and Mosaic Pathway. We started with autumn rolls, intricate rolls filled with pork and accompanied with lettuce, mint, and a tangy dipping sauce. We also tried the Smokey Petal, at the recommendation of our waiter. This spicy dip made of baby clams was served in a sesame cracker shell, and while the combination does not sound immediately appetizing, it was excellent. Both appetizers were beautifully presented and full of flavor with complex textures between the soft filling, crispy roles or cracker, and the leafy greens.

I wish I remembered the names of our dinner entrees -- something about a hard working pig and a cow standing out in a field, perhaps? We opted for four diverse choices so that we could try everything: vermicelli with crab, a crepe dish, beef, and pork.

Both of the meat dishes were standouts, with flavorful juicy beef, and crispy tangy pork that we agreed were the winners. The crepe dish was good, but was overwhelmed by a serving of greens that would make a manatee envious, and the vermicelli while cooked perfectly, would have benefited from more crab and a hint of spice.

Aside form the less than desirable location, my only other complaint is the portion sizes. While the appetizers were sufficient, the entrees, specifically the two meat entrees, were quite small. While they were packed with flavor, you definitely need to start with an appetizer and end with a dessert to make a complete meal.

The price for this treat was quite an unbelievable value, totaling about $125 for four with two appetizers, four beers, one glass of wine, four entrees, shared dessert, tax and tip.

Present on Urbanspoon

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