Dallas or Atlanta? The Bui family had closed their Vietnamese restaurant in New York, not 15 minutes from the Twin Towers, and were contemplating where next to set up shop. Right about then, August Moon, a fixture on Central Expressway for 30 long years, decamped. And that’s how the Buis got to Plano.
Kirk is manager. Brother So is chef. Sister Tran runs the front of the house. (That’s her in the stylish Prada eyeglasses.) They’ve had a rocky road, between the hoops to get a liquor license (coming in August, so it’s BYOB until then) and the drama of their neon sign, which inexplicably shorted out after a hard March rain.
But no roadblocks when it comes to the food. It’s very good Vietnamese, rendered with a hearty style that feels homemade and a spicier touch that guarantees you’ll remember your meal. Pork chops stood taller than the usual half-inch-thick cutlet served at other Vietnamese places. Its chargrilled crust looked as good as it tasted. Lemon grass tofu and string beans skimped on neither. The beans were vivid green and tender crisp, while the tofu came as bounteous cubes, two textures in one: thick crust enclosing a jiggly, soft interior. The whole thing was done up in a brown sauce that smoldered with chile heat.
“Shaking” beef, claiming its name from the technique of shaking the pan during cooking, followed the usual formula of medallions of tenderloin sautéed with garlic. This also had soft onion and bell pepper, bound with the beef in a deep brown gravy and spread over crisp greens.
Zander’s does dishes you don’t see at every Viet spot, such as beef carpaccio or papaya salad with crispy anchovies (which the Buis bring in from New York to substitute for the more common dried shrimp). What a refreshing, crunchy, sweet, tart, spicy mouthful this salad was, with fantastic contrast between the grated papaya’s cool crunch and the salty crackle of the anchovies, like little toasted shreds.
Tran makes desserts such as the luscious ﬂan with coffee syrup and the lush banana pudding made with coconut milk and served warm, with a sprinkling of crushed peanuts. The Buis have a nice eye for decor, with their scheme of white stucco and blue neon, new outdoor patio, and polished hardwood dance floor, which they’ll put to good use when the liquor license kicks in. For now, it’s a playground for Alexander and friends. He’s the son of the chef and the one who inspired the restaurant’s name. How many years before he’s cooking here, too?
Get contact information for Zander’s House.