Open roughly four years (at least by my count), Co’m Vietnamese Grill has become one of the de facto responses to the question: “Where do I go in Atlanta for good Vietnamese?” It is therefore no surprise that this BuHi hotspot now has a devout following and a satellite location.
The original spot sits adjacent to Lee’s Bakery in a small strip center. When you walk in, you find a mix of the expected and the unexpected. The tables have that “stone” look – but it’s faux. Meanwhile, the hipster Asian staff zips around (and yeah – she was hot thank you very much lunch buddies) and the decor makes you feel comfortable. For those of you adverse to the divey nature of most BuHi eateries, the feel here should settle you a bit. Co’m is going for a more upscale experience than their aforementioned neighbors; and, they succeed in that regard.
The menu here is built around the indigenous cuisine of Vietnam. However, claims of true
authenticity traditionalism fall flat. It’s not that the menu is a departure from authentic cuisine so mach as it has been tempered with American sensibilities. While certain spices have been held back (Five Spice), others that we may be more comfortable with seem to persevere.
The selection seems vast; however, if you eat here enough times – you begin to realize that there are only a handful of dishes. The extra lines on the menu can be attributed to the selection of proteins. Nothing outrageous is available, most every dish comes in your choice of beef, chicken, pork, lamb, or shrimp. There are also sporadic appearances of duck and fish (particularly salmon). Entrées hover between the $10 and $15 price point.
Before we take a look at the pictures from my recent excursion, please forgive my failure to use the
authentic traditional names of these dishes. Even I’m stumped as to how to properly invoke the appropriate characters that are required.
Shrimp Spring rolls: Bright and crisp. The shrimp was cooked sufficiently and seasoned so that the flavor of the protein was not lost amongst the vegetables.
Goi Salad: green papaya, green mango, and apple slices with minced grilled chicken, peanuts, and fried onions. Simple flavors combined with the natural sweetness of the fruit to make this dish an easy eat. Still, the fried onions seemed misplaced and I did not detect any rau rum (coriander). Instead, I tasted cilantro. Anyone else know this to be true?
Bò Lá Lốt: Beef wrapped in grape leaves. Easily my favorite dish of the meal. Not being an expert, I can’t tell if these were actually grape leaves or betel leaves (authentic). Still, I got the garlic, the fish sauce, and the turmeric. Lite on the sugar, this one is the most likely to unnerve traditional American palates.
Cơm tấm: grilled shrimp over fragrant rice (with a poached egg). This was the best opportunity we had to sample the vegetables and the shrimp. The vegetables used here are reasonably fresh; though they aren’t sourced locally. Bummer! Meanwhile, the shrimp themselves didn’t impress me. They are somewhat dried out by the grill – not surprising considering that they spent some time in a deep freeze. All the elements are here, and that is what makes this dish Vietnamese. Flavor wise, it taste like the ingredients included but lacked any hint of the fish sauce I expected. What’s with the fried onions?
At least they do in fact used crushed rice (aka com tam) for this dish. Rice to the Vietnamese is bread to “Westerners.” The crushed rice (aka broken rice) is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the basis of vermicelli and comes from the cultivation of unprocessed rice crops. The result is a rice that has a crunch to it and is slightly dryer than the long grain rice used elsewhere (and certainly dryer than Japanese sticky rice).
Bánh hỏi Chạo tôm: ultimately disappointing. The vegetables, as previously mentioned, were fresh enough that only the most discerning of eaters would complain. Meanwhile, the use of fried onions was befuddling. I’m not sure the minced shrimp wrapped around sugar cane (chao tom) is traditionally used in this dish. It’s kinda hard to eat a since you basically use the greens to wrap up the protein. Thus, you are forced to remove the shrimp before wrapping. Meanwhile, the minced shrimp lacked any discernable flavor and it was somewhat dry.
For many diners, this restaurant continually scores amongst the best in Atlanta. That it’s won so many awards might be more a testament to the dearth of top flight options here in the ATL and not a statement of Co’m’s own prowess. I wouldn’t say I’ve ever been truly disappointed with Co’m. That is perhaps because of my tempered expectations. Instead, it falls into the long list of places that I don’t mind eating at. Co’m still remains ahead of newcomer Chateau de Saigon; though the menus are very different. I’ll leave my comments regarding places like Pho Dai Loi and Dua to their own devices. More on those joints another time.
Atlanta Foodies On Co’m Vietnamese Grill
- Adventurous Tastes On Co’m (08.08.08)
- ChowDownAtlanta on Co’m (03.31.08)
- Blissful Glutton On Co’m (09.10.05)
Co’m Vietnamese Grill Restaurant Address & Information
4005 Buford Hwy NE, Atlanta, GA 30345 // 404.320.0405 // Co’m Website