In the 1930s, painter Le Pho struggled with his artistic identity. Training at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, he wanted to find a way to tie together his Vietnamese heritage with his newly won European style. In NoVA, close to a century later, his great-grandniece faced a similar crisis.
Restaurateur Tuyet Nhi Le says she has always felt that finding herself as a Vietnam-born American has been “a recurring theme.” Since they debuted Chasin’ Tails in 2012, she and her team at Happy Endings Hospitality have trod the line between the two cultures with beloved restaurants including Roll Play, Teas’n You, and Lei’D Hawaiian Poke. But her dream was always to open a modern Vietnamese restaurant that would truly meld Eastern and Western traditions.
The opportunity came with the building of Founders Row in Falls Church. Le signed on to open a new restaurant in the corner lot of the multipurpose development. She received a discount for occupying all 7,700 square feet, which meant that she needed to fill it with more than just new locations of Roll Play and Chasin’ Tails. Though she always thought she’d end her career by bringing her goal to fruition, she realized it was time for her upscale dream restaurant.
Decorated with impressionistic murals influenced by Le Pho’s art, NUE — which means nude in French — lays bare Tuyet Nhi Le’s culturally mixed influences. Dishes were created as collaborations with Le, her mother, and a team of Vietnamese American chefs.
Diners might start with the pho pâté. It’s a silken take on peppery Vietnamese chicken liver mousse. But rather than relying on an old-fashioned recipe, Le cooked up a version singing with pho aromatics and covered in a blanket of herbs. It’s served with warm, crispy crullers for dipping.
Her mom’s bo kho, or Vietnamese beef stew, is served over al dente pappardelle for one of the most exciting pasta dishes in our region. Vegetarian Vietnamese curry is the inspiration for risotto made with Hokkaido rice. It can remain meat-free, but it’s even better crowned with aggressively seared scallops. In every taste, it’s clear that Le, like her famous ancestor, has found her identity in her artistry. 944 W. Broad St., Falls Church
Feature image of NUE’s coconut curry risotto by Shannon Ayres