The new So Ba Vietnamese Restaurant in East Atlanta Village has already caused something of a stir among dining bloggers, who tend to argue a lot about things such as authenticity and Buford Highway versus intown neighborhoods.
So Ba is owned by Nhan Le, who also owns Wasabi Sushi, Wine and Saki Lounge in Castleberry Hill, and once owned the now defunct White Elephant Thai Restaurant in East Point. All three have (or had) in common some sort of take on Asian cooking and situations in emerging neighborhoods, hungry for hip, hole-in-the-wall spots.
So Ba took over the funky, cinder block building that was most recently home to La Casita Cantina. Le’s transformation of the space from mixed-up Mexican to minimalist Asian is quite soothing, if utterly neutral. A palette of beige and white, some paper lanterns, and a scattering of tables with votive candles is about it, until it’s warm enough to open the patio. The old bar area is still intact, though there’s no liquor license, yet.
On a recent evening, that didn’t deter one young man from bellying up with some BYO beer and enjoying a big bowl of pho.
Pho and rolls
Pho, Vietnamese rice noodle soup, comes in seven different varieties — with combinations of steak, well-done brisket, tripe, soft tendon, shrimp and chicken — and three different sizes. The medium ($8) is a meal for most. The beef broth is a bit thin, but flavorful, with the aromatic mingling of ginger, star anise, clove and cinnamon. A plate of fresh bean sprouts, basil, jalapeños, and lime perks it all up. And if that doesn’t do it, there’s always Sriracha.
Egg rolls and spring rolls ($5) are the only starters. The egg rolls are tight, crispy little cylinders filled with ground pork, carrots, mushrooms and noodles. Charbroiled pork spring rolls with lettuce, vermicelli noodles, and peanut sauce offer a more interesting play of textures and flavors. But the fresh rice paper wrap isn’t well pulled together, making it a chore to eat.
Broken rice or rice noodles
So Ba offers several dishes made with broken jasmine rice accompanied by a refreshing side of lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.
The most complicated is a melange of pork chop, shredded pork, steamed omelet and sunny-side-up egg ($9). Vietnamese-style shaking beef ($11) is a tasty and tender portion of marinated cubed filet mignon, stir-fried with the characteristic salty, savory and bright essence of garlic, soy and rice vinaigrette. It’s served with rich, eggy fried rice.
Among the several rice noodle dishes, there’s an intense Hue-style spicy noodle soup ($8) with sliced beef, pig’s knuckles and congealed pig’s blood. How’s that for authentic? But less adventurous diners also will find the crowd-pleasing likes of charbroiled shrimp, pork and egg roll ($10).
So Ba, 560 Gresham Avenue, 404-627-9911
Signature dish: Pho Entree prices: $7-$11
Hours: 5 p.m.-midnight Mondays-Thursdays; 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Fridays; 11:30 a.m-midnight Saturdays-Sundays.
Credit cards: Yes
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