When Le Colonial opened its first restaurant in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood in 1993, its unusual (for the time) combination of upscale Vietnamese fare became an instant sensation among Chicago socialites.
It was among the chicest of chic places. Now, 30 years later it has expanded its reach, with locations in a half-dozen cities, Delray Beach being the most recent.
One thing that hasn’t changed. The impeccable service and attention to detail. Le Colonial is a celebration of seductive spirit and vivid flavors reminiscent of Saigon in the 1920s. It is designed to capture a bygone era of romance and soft architecture, perhaps a one-sided view, but a pleasant one, nonetheless. As such there is a dress code, not quite as stringent as in non-resort towns, but you still should leave the flip-flops and tank top at home. A polo shirt and dressy shorts are allowed, and although the dress code says no sneakers, I spied a few pairs in the dining room.
Although the cuisine is fancy, it’s not fussy, and although priced more than you might pay at a neighborhood Vietnamese restaurant, the dishes aren’t exorbitantly over-priced considering the setting and attention to detail.
Specialty drinks are in the $15 range, such as my refreshing Lychee Martini made with Helix Vodka, Giffard Lychee, fresh lime, and simple syrup. My husband, who was the designated driver enjoyed one of the numerous “mocktail options”, a delightful blend of yuzu juice, ginger simple syrup, ginger beer, and soda water for $10.
We began our meal with three selections from the deceptively named “Small Plates” menu. Each of these proved to be nearly the same size as our entrees. If you’re looking to save money, order from this section of the menu, it certainly gives you more bang for your buck. Goi Cuon, a chilled shrimp roll, presented four good-sized rice noodle rolls stuffed with jumbo shrimp, rice vermicelli noodles, lettuce, bean sprouts, greens, and herbs, served with a rich peanut sauce, for a mere $15. Similarly, Banh Out, billed as a sesame beef ravioli is grilled sesame beef rolled in flat rice noodles, with cucumber, lettuce, basil, and lime garlic sauce. Again, reasonably priced at just $16. Spicy yellowfin tuna tartare atop sliced avocado, and sweet chili, with shaved cucumber, red shiso, soy caviar, and topped off with a rice chip is a bargain, even at $24. I swear, one more small dish and that would have been enough for us.
However, we had already ordered our entrees, so we forged ahead. Ca Hoi Nuong featured a miso-glazed salmon filet, accompanied by baby bok choy and shiitake mushrooms, with a light coconut lobster broth, and drizzled with annato oil. It was delicious, but pricey at $38 for a rather small portion (really not much more than our “Small” plates.) Bo Luc Lac, better known as “Shaking Beef” on most Vietnamese menus was the one dish that was not enhanced by the upscale treatment. Usually, this dish is made with a skirt steak, or some other cheaper cut and flash fried so that it is slightly crispy and chewy. Le Colonial’s version is made with a tender cut of heritage Angus beef and, although it is listed as caramelized, it had barely any color or texture. It was a beautifully prepared piece of meat, but not what is expected in that dish. A pile of sauteed onions, and fresh greens, dressed with a lime pepper vinaigrette complete the presentation. Although one can order a side of rice for $4, at $40 for the entrée, it really should be included. Again, since we ordered before we saw the size of the small plates, we ordered sides of Brussels sprouts and green beans at $14 each.
We ended up having most of the second course packed to go because we did want to sample the desserts. This is where the fusion of the cuisines shines because, let’s face it, most Asian desserts are not particularly appealing to Western palates. The French influence can be seen most apparently in the warm chocolate cake, made with Valrhona Guanaja dark chocolate, served with vanilla ice cream and a rum flambé. It’s everything a chocoholic loves. I was kicking myself because I was too full to finish it. My hubby opted for a Vietnamese dessert Che Chuoi, a warm coconut tapioca pudding studded with banana, sesame seed, and coconut chips and finished with crème anglaise. Not to my taste, but he devoured it.
Service was magnificent. Our server, Jeffrey, seemed to anticipate our every need, made excellent suggestions, and was warm and friendly. He even suggested the perfect glass of wine to accompany my dinner and allowed me to try a sample before ordering. Le Colonial is presently open for lunch and dinner.
601 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach
Rick Karlin is OutSFL's food editor. Have a culinary tip to share? Email Rick at