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Pan-Asian Encounters

An Asia-Centric Celebration of the Annual Sonoma County Restaurant Week

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Pho Real: Kettles Vietnamese Bistro

KETTLE OF DELISH Cat Do keeps up with the vegans - NICOLAS GRIZZLE
  • Nicolas Grizzle
  • KETTLE OF DELISH Cat Do keeps up with the vegans

"It's been quite a ride," says Kettles Vietnamese Bistro owner Cat Do, who opened her Santa Rosa restaurant almost two years ago after bailing out on an accounting career. "I didn't want to sit behind a desk all day," says the 35-year-old Sonoma State University graduate. "I wanted to be my own boss."

Do, who moved to Santa Rosa from her hometown of San Diego 15 years ago, oversees a menu that spans Vietnamese food choices from classic pho to various curries and noodle-based lovelies, including specialty items such as the iron pot rice combo, a tantalizing offering of free-range chicken, pork sausages, barbecue pork and various things called "vegetables."

Spring and summer rolls and dumplings make their de rigueur appearance on the starters menu, which also features my all-time favorite Asian appetizer, sugar cane shrimp (chao tom), which is exactly that: minced shrimp grilled on sugar cane sticks.

Do was busily putting together Kettles' updated menu of vegan fare during my recent weekday visit. The crowd was heavy on lawyers and judges from nearby Sonoma County outposts of justice, along with various other worker bees out for a fresh and filling lunch. The vegan-friendly update, says Do, came about after customers approached her asking for modifications to dishes such as the bánh mì, which has a pepper-mayonnaise spread that's off-limits to vegans.

The menu also notes, with pride, that Kettles' dishes are 90 percent gluten free. "I noticed a lot of people approached us saying they are becoming more and more allergic to gluten as well," says Do. "It's been really fun to try and cater to this niche," she says, adding that it's "not fully emphasized in a lot of restaurants, at least not in Asian restaurants." Another menu tweak that bespeaks the regional tongue: most dishes come with a suggested wine pairing.

The bánh mì is a hit. The classic Vietnamese sandwich is loaded with pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber, fresh jalapenos, cilantro and soy, all served on a crunchy-chewy French baguette. I ordered it with barbecue pork (other options include braised beef oxtail and lemongrass tofu), and doused it with numerous mega-squirts of the blessedly hot Sriracha sauce, which appeared in a tableside condiment rack, as if in a dream.

We passed on the suggested Barrique Chardonnay pairing, but the house-made limeade was a welcome accompaniment to the sandwich as we wept tears of hot-sauce bliss while devouring the super-fresh sandwich.

"We focus on a lot of things here," Do says, "fresh, healthy and—I know it's an abused word—natural ingredients that focus on good health."

By all means, keep up the abuse. —Tom Gogola

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