CHIReview

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Sochi Saigonese Kitchen review image
8.2

Sochi Saigonese Kitchen

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With its bright space, audible yet low-volume techno soundtrack, and snake plants sprinkled around, Sochi is like a more pleasant version of the Ibiza day club experience. But instead of a pool of drunken ravers, this Lakeview restaurant is alive with a bustling crowd and fantastic, multi-layered Vietnamese food. Its energetic atmosphere and dynamic cast of dishes make it easy to forget that we live in a place where people casually throw around the term “Polar Vortex.”

Kim Kovacik

Sochi Saigonese Kitchen review image

At this comforting, neighborhood spot, you’ll see children uncoordinatedly fishing slippery noodles out of bowls of phở and co-workers, bánh mìs in hand, discussing how best to optimize whatever it is that needs optimizing. Solo diners sit at the kitchen counter sipping cocktails, while a couple in the corner quickly splits a salad before rushing to catch a show at Schubas across the street. The closely situated tables are always full, but rather than feeling like a claustrophobic mosh pit in desperate need of deodorant, the dining room radiates a sense of community. You could befriend anyone here, or at the very least, work up the courage to ask a neighboring table of strangers if what they ordered was worth it.

Kim Kovacik

Sochi Saigonese Kitchen review image

We’ll answer for them: yes. The dishes manage to cram a vibrant ecosystem of flavor and texture into each bite. Light rice paper folds around ground pork, shrimp, and vegetables forming savory egg rolls paired with a tangy fish sauce. Puffed crab chips complement the seared duck salad’s salty meat, crisp bean sprouts, and spicy ginger dressing that’s 10x more effective than a Ricola. Smoky pieces of filet mignon accompany full-bodied fried rice seasoned with rich bone marrow. Sweet, spicy, tangy, salty, and umami are all woven together, wrapping each dish in a blanket of flavor. 

In a city with its fair share of minuses, from parking spots with "dibs" lawn chairs to hotboxed CTA cars, Sochi is a shining plus. It's lively energy and incredible Vietnamese dishes offer a reliable respite from everything we love to complain about, and make us wish this restaurant was accepting tenant applications. But the finiteness of every meal is part of the charm. It makes us appreciate our time here, keeps us coming back, and has us wondering if we’ll receive a loyalty card for our consistent patronage. 

Food Rundown

Original Egg Roll

This is the only way to start your meal. Moist ground beef, shrimp, taro, mushroom, and vermicelli are all packaged into thin rice paper rolls whose crispiness is what every Soundcloud producer is trying to sample and use as a hi hat. Wrap these in the lettuce leaves and dunk them into the tangy and sweet fish sauce for added freshness and umami.

Kim Kovacik

Sochi Saigonese Kitchen review image

Ben Thành Market Salad

We’ve never been to Ben Thành Market, but if this salad is indicative of what’s there, we’re booking our tickets ASAP. Tender rice noodles, peanuts, fried shallots, and crisp vegetables are topped with a fish sauce dressing, and every bite is an expertly coordinated mix of contrasts.

Kim Kovacik

Sochi Saigonese Kitchen review image

Seared Duck Salad

If you’re looking for a salad with a little bit of kick, this is it. The potent ginger dressing is spicy with a tinge of sweetness, and it brightens up the mountain of juicy duck meat, fatty pork cracklings, mint, basil, and crisp bean sprouts and daikon. Ditch the spoon and scoop this up with the airy crab chips decorating the sides of the bowl.

Kim Kovacik

Sochi Saigonese Kitchen review image

Saigon Phở

Good phở is satisfying, great phở is rejuvenating. This falls into the latter category and is perfect if you got too comfortable with the mimosa pitcher at brunch. The broth isn’t too fatty—it has a slightly sweet, deep beef flavor, and it’s full of brisket, flank steak, and tender rice noodles. Top it off with some crunchy bean sprouts and basil, and throw in some Sriracha for an extra kick.

Kim Kovacik

Sochi Saigonese Kitchen review image

Shaking Beef

Buttery filet mignon and fried rice cooked in smoky bone marrow? Yes please.

Kim Kovacik

Sochi Saigonese Kitchen review image

Slap Mama Crab Fried Rice

Courtesy of the butter garlic sauce with Slap Ya Mama seasoning, this fried rice is like those packed bags you get at Cajun seafood boils minus the bag and the fishy, garlic smell that will live with your fingers for the next three days. It’s salty and spicy, with a bold seafood flavor from the crab, shrimp, and masago. Plus, you get some added freshness from the scallion and cilantro.

Kim Kovacik

Sochi Saigonese Kitchen review image

Chili Salt Chicken

The french fries that come with this don’t add much, but the half chicken is great. The chili salt marinade permeates through the crispy skin all the way to the juicy meat, gracing it with the holy trinity of savory, spicy, and sweet flavors. Its dipping sauce—made with herbaceous laksa leaves, lime, and garlic butter—is delicious but extremely potent. Use it sparingly if you want to avoid a bite that might single-handedly result in exponentially high sodium levels.

Kim Kovacik

Sochi Saigonese Kitchen review image

Coffee Flan

This is a fun take on Vietnamese coffee, with extra creaminess and boldness thanks to the coconut milk and rum infused into the flan. The flan is light with a custardy smoothness, but we wish it was sweeter to counteract the bitterness of the coffee. While we appreciate the texture of the crushed ice, some bites end up too watery.

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