Chef's night out

Mar 13, 2001 at 12:00 am

Best Vietnamese (Wayne County)
Annam Restaurant Vietnamien

Lots of people appreciate Annam, but co-owner Andrew Nguyen has two fans that he particularly likes to mention: Takashi Yagihashi, head chef at Farmington Hills’ acclaimed Tribute, and Jimmy Schmidt of the Rattlesnake Club. According to a book just out that reveals where America’s 100 best chefs eat on their days off, these two superstars choose Annam.

They’re in lots of company. Lunch business comes mostly from Ford headquarters, but weekend traffic is from all over the metro area. The fans come first for chicken lemon grass and second for catfish baked in a clay pot with a caramelized sauce.

What they like is the incredible lightness of Phuong Nguyen’s touch in the kitchen (she is Andrew’s wife and co-owner with his sister Paige Nguyen). Asked how Vietnamese differs from other Asian cuisines, Andrew says it’s neither spicy like Szechuan nor heavy or gravy-based like Cantonese. Only a few of Annam’s dishes use cornstarch.

What they mainly use is fresh cilantro and mint and delicate white vermicelli. Warm bean sprouts with shrimp, for example, is about the lightest salad you’ll ever eat. Soups, even beef soup, manage to be large and very full of goodies without seeming thick or heavy. You eat dessert, therefore, guilt-free, and still are able to leave the table without groaning.

What adds even more to the feeling of weightlessness is the spare elegance of the surroundings. Simple drawings of a few brush strokes, dark wood chopsticks, a single flower on each table and, best of all, a faint perfume of jasmine from the candles — someone here has instinctively understood how to create a serene feng shui.

The Nguyens are hoping to have their liquor license by the end of April.