Exquisite Vietnamese cuisine with a French twist at Le Colonial

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  • The entrance to the French-Vietnamese sensation Le Colonial is set back in an alley off of Cosmo Street near Union Square in the theatre district of San Francisco. The entrance to the French-Vietnamese sensation Le Colonial is set back in an alley off of Cosmo Street near Union Square in the theatre district of San Francisco. Photo by: Alison Reynolds
  • A covered walkway filled with plantings leads to the dining room of the sensational Le Colonial restaurant in San Francisco. A covered walkway filled with plantings leads to the dining room of the sensational Le Colonial restaurant in San Francisco. Photo by: Alison Reynolds
  • The expansive dining room of Le Colonial early in the evening, a design tribute to 1950's era French Indochina and the home of exquisite Vietnamese nouvelle cuisine with a French twist. The expansive dining room of Le Colonial early in the evening, a design tribute to 1950's era French Indochina and the home of exquisite Vietnamese nouvelle cuisine with a French twist. Photo by: Alison Reynolds
  • Antique hand hammered tin panels cover the vaulted ceiling of the beautiful dining room on an early evening at Le Colonial in San Francisco Antique hand hammered tin panels cover the vaulted ceiling of the beautiful dining room on an early evening at Le Colonial in San Francisco Photo by: Alison Reynolds
  • Xa Lach Rau Tron is a delightful butter lettuce and watercress salad at Le Colonial in San Francisco Xa Lach Rau Tron is a delightful butter lettuce and watercress salad at Le Colonial in San Francisco Photo by: Alison Reynolds
  • The waiter mixes the Goi Ca Thu or ahi tuna tartar with avocado, chili sauce, shallots and a ginger-lime dressing at Le Colonial in San Francisco. The waiter mixes the Goi Ca Thu or ahi tuna tartar with avocado, chili sauce, shallots and a ginger-lime dressing at Le Colonial in San Francisco. Photo by: Alison Reynolds
  • The dining room is filled on a typical night at Le Colonial. The dining room is filled on a typical night at Le Colonial. Photo by: Alison Reynolds
  • Ca Ri Tim is a fabulous dish of coconut curry prawns with eggplant, shitake mushrooms and mango in a rich green curry sauce at Le Colonial in San Francisco. Ca Ri Tim is a fabulous dish of coconut curry prawns with eggplant, shitake mushrooms and mango in a rich green curry sauce at Le Colonial in San Francisco. Photo by: Alison Reynolds
  • A bottle of Hirsch Vineyards 2010 San Andreas Fault Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is the perfect accompaniment to a fine dinner at Le Colonial in San Francisco. A bottle of Hirsch Vineyards 2010 San Andreas Fault Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is the perfect accompaniment to a fine dinner at Le Colonial in San Francisco. Photo by: Alison Reynolds
  • The bar upstairs at Le Colonial is a comfortable and lively room featuring live jazz, swing and rockabilly music 4 nights a week. The bar upstairs at Le Colonial is a comfortable and lively room featuring live jazz, swing and rockabilly music 4 nights a week. Photo by: Alison Reynolds
  • The swing band Le Jazz Hot gets ready to set the room on fire at the upstairs bar at Le Colonial in San Francisco. The swing band Le Jazz Hot gets ready to set the room on fire at the upstairs bar at Le Colonial in San Francisco. Photo by: Alison Reynolds
  • Clint Baker nails a trumpet solo while swing dancers fly around the dance floor at the exciting Monday night performances of Le Jazz Hot at the upstairs bar of Le Colonial in San Francisco. Clint Baker nails a trumpet solo while swing dancers fly around the dance floor at the exciting Monday night performances of Le Jazz Hot at the upstairs bar of Le Colonial in San Francisco. Photo by: Alison Reynolds
  • The dancers are in full swing at the upstairs bar at Le Colonial as the band Le Jazz Hot pounds away at luscious swing era tunes at their weekly Monday night gig. The dancers are in full swing at the upstairs bar at Le Colonial as the band Le Jazz Hot pounds away at luscious swing era tunes at their weekly Monday night gig. Photo by: Alison Reynolds
  • Clint Baker wails away on clarinet during a gig by the swing band Le Jazz Hot every Monday night in the upstairs bar at Le Colonial in San Francisco. Clint Baker wails away on clarinet during a gig by the swing band Le Jazz Hot every Monday night in the upstairs bar at Le Colonial in San Francisco. Photo by: Alison Reynolds
  • The dance floor is alive with swing dancers at the Monday night gig of the band Le Jazz Hot at the upstairs bar at Le Colonial in San Francisco. The dance floor is alive with swing dancers at the Monday night gig of the band Le Jazz Hot at the upstairs bar at Le Colonial in San Francisco. Photo by: Alison Reynolds
  • Clint Baker plays a coronet solo during a gig with the band Le Jazz Hot every Monday night at the upstairs bar at Le Colonial in San Francisco. Clint Baker plays a coronet solo during a gig with the band Le Jazz Hot every Monday night at the upstairs bar at Le Colonial in San Francisco. Photo by: Alison Reynolds

SAN FRANCISCO, August 31, 2013 — Le Colonial combines the gilded atmosphere of a sophisticated colonial outpost from 1950s Saigon with the wildly inventive nouvelle cuisine of French Indochina to create a fine dining experience that is a joy to savor year after year.

This San Francisco culinary institution has been a delightful refuge in the City by the Bay since 1998. It remains a completely unique gem of a restaurant, a constant of excellence known for brilliant food in an expansive, comfortably exotic, yet casual setting.


SEE RELATED: A fine dining extravaganza at Gary Danko in San Francisco


Located near Union Square in a white stucco townhouse set apart and down an alley, Le Colonial creates the air of a speakeasy in the tony part of town from the entranceway through the spacious restaurant to the after party bar upstairs.

A covered walkway filled with plantings leads to a large chamber with darkened lighting and a distinctive French Colonial sense of atmospheric illusion. Antique hand hammered tin panels with uniform patterns set across a vaulted ceiling are a sensory detail that isn’t unnoticed in this intoxicating room that once was the home of the legendary Trader Vic’s.

Le Colonial was one of the leaders in developing a distinctive Vietnamese take on French Indochina Pan Asian cuisine. It continues to present a vibrant and inventive culinary palate with a wildly creative and versatile menu that is as comforting for its reliability as it is exquisite.

A memorable feast, Le Colonial retains its original outpost in New York on 57th Street in a stunning townhouse and in Chicago in the heart of the Gold Coast in a lovingly restored vintage row house, each with nearly identical menus to San Francisco. For fans of Le Colonial, to be in any of these three cities for any length of time is to need to spend an evening there at least once while visiting.


SEE RELATED: Urban wine tasting in San Francisco


Start with traditional Vietnamese chicken soup or Pho Ga, and then move on to a selection of Goi Coun or spring rolls with poached prawns, red leaf lettuce, and bean sprouts in a peanut sauce. Banh Hap So Diep or pot stickers filled with scallops, shrimp and ginger are an outstanding appetizer. Try a Hirsch Vineyards 2010 San Andreas Fault Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir from the excellent wine list and settle in for the main courses.

Ca Ri Tim is a fabulous dish of coconut curry prawns with eggplant, shiitake mushroom and mango in a rich green curry sauce, deliciously spicy and tangy with just a hint of basil. Their signature dish, Ca Hap La Chuoi, is a wonderful steamed sea bass wrapped in banana leaves in a black bean coconut sauce, delightfully tender and rich, and beautifully presented. Ca Kho To, or clay pot Loch Duart salmon with baby Portobello mushrooms and pickled papaya noodles in a sweet savory black pepper caramel sauce is as amazing as it sounds, a wholly original and delicious taste treat.

A brilliant standout is the Vit Ngu Vi Huong, or the five spice duck breast and leg comfit in a spectacular tamarind sauce. It is a disappointment that the Bo Sate, a ridiculously amazing combination of sautéed filet mignon with roasted yams, Asian long beans and a spicy sate sauce and a legendary signature stand out dish, is not on the menu currently in San Francisco, but it is in New York and Chicago.

This oversight is made up for somewhat by a sumptuously delicious Cuu Nuong or grilled lamb chops with soy glazed sweet potatoes, watercress apple salad with a black pepper lime dipping sauce.


SEE RELATED: Kona’s exceptional seafood secret: Bite Me Fish Market Bar and Grill


Entrees are a very reasonable $25 - $35, appetizers are in the $15 range, and starters are generally around $10. Take your time through the meal, luxuriate in the atmosphere under slowly turning ceiling fans, and order a lot of different dishes to share. The service is friendly and crisp, the sensibility of a special environment is inescapable, and a casual meal can easily consume two hours or more in a room buzzing with businessmen, regulars, and tourists.

The bar upstairs is a spacious very pleasant after dinner surprise with its casual club like atmosphere, rattan furniture, and a live swing band playing the hits to a packed room of young dancers. The atmosphere is electric as Paul Mehling and Clint Baker and their group, Le Jazz Hot, light up the band stand at their weekly Monday night gig with soaring swing tunes and stirring lead runs on trumpet, clarinet, and violin.

The upstairs bar at Le Colonial features eclectic live rockabilly, jazz and swing music four nights a week, DJs on weekends, and is always a great space to hang out in.

www.lecolonialsf.com; Phone: 415.931.3600

Joel Berliner is a travel writer who lives in Los Angeles.


This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Joel Berliner

Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles who has written for The Washington Times, Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Chicago Tribune, Honolulu Advertiser, El Paso Times, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, among many other publications.  He is excited to be back where his travel writing career began, at The Washington Times, where along with his wife, photographer extraordinaire Alison Reynolds, they will travel the globe in order to bring you The Good Life.

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