The days of having to travel to New Orleans East or the West Bank for a bowl of pho or a hearty banh mi are long over, as the past two years have witnessed a crop of new Vietnamese restaurants open across Uptown and Mid-City. The latest addition is Mint Modern Bistro & Bar, whose vibrant lime-colored logo and enviable corner location in the Freret corridor make it a hard-to-miss spot for folks in the neighborhood with a hankering for bubble tea.
It's audacious to declare one's restaurant "modern," opening up both the menu and ambience to extra scrutiny. Mint would do well to retire the modern label and focus on areas where the kitchen excels: standard, flavorful Vietnamese fare and a smattering of inventive entrees.
The strangest part of dining at Mint isn't the offbeat decor (crystal chandeliers paired with plastic faux-wood chairs) or the unusual television shows playing on widescreens above the bar (19 Kids and Counting by day, Dennis Rodman documentaries by night) but the menu's mislabeling of dishes.
Mint confusingly identifies or incorrectly describes several items on the menu. In the "teasers" section, a dish called "sticky chicken wings" is actually a small plate of fried chicken in a pool of salmon-colored remoulade that bears a striking resemblance to Thousand Island dressing. The "pork belly tacos" are not a Mexican-Vietnamese fusion, but the familiar take on Momofuku pork buns that have weighed down menus across the country for the past five years.
The cocktails are thoroughly contemporary, and the long, sleek bar makes Mint an ideal stop for pre- or post-dinner drinks. The Fishy Surprise, a whiskey-based cocktail that combines grapefruit juice and fish sauce, successfully uses the salty Vietnamese ingredient in an unexpected way, helping to balance the smoky notes of the whiskey and the grapefruit's tang. (It behooves drinkers who would rather not down a glug of fish sauce to stir the drink upon receiving it, as the sauce tends to settle quickly at the bottom.) Other notable cocktails with Asian spins include a rebooted bloody mary made with the lingering heat of Sriracha and a vodka cocktail made with tapioca pearls that goes down a little too easily.
The menu's classic Vietnamese offerings are fresh and serviceable, and the meat-heavy (meatball, New York strip and brisket) pho combo bowl and the meat lovers' baguette (barbecued pork, Vietnamese ham, meatball and pate) are surprisingly well-balanced standouts. Compared to other Uptown banh mi options, the bread used at Mint is first in its class, with an airy texture that complements heavy fillings nicely. The pho broth is aromatic and fresh, without the iron-tinged aftertaste or watery consistency that plagues many of the city's soup bowls.
While there are ample traditional offerings at Mint, the "modern" entree menu is small but strong. The kimchi burger is sloppy in the best possible way, with fermented cabbage breathing new life into the hamburger-meets-brioche bun combination. One of the menu's more creative items, the fried chicken and green tea waffle, is playful and festive, taking the Southern classic and giving it a green-hued upgrade with a subtly sweet flavor. The chicken curry's tangerine-tinted broth is equally colorful, with a consistency that is more akin to a thin stew than a traditional Indian curry. The dish more than makes up for any quibbling over curry definitions with robust cumin flavors and hunks of tender chicken and potatoes.
Mint Modern is a welcome addition to an area that may become a new destination for those seeking worthy Vietnamese food.