Coriander can-do

What works: Tasty food and good service in an unpretentious, but attractive dining room.

What needs work: Of two desserts on the menu, one was unavailable three hours into the business day. Wine and high-point beer are forthcoming.

The Tip: In a familiar Campus Corner location, Coriander serves delicious Vietnamese food that may be customized to personal preference.

Located next door to Victoria’s Pasta Shop and within crawling distance of The Deli, Coriander Cafe is nestled right in the heart of Campus Corner.

above Jeremiah Caldwell left and Chris Le

The simple and pleasing dining room is decorated with framed photos of daily life in Vietnam. Unlike many Asian menus with multiple laminated pages and scores of dishes that can be overwhelming to sort through, Coriander’s is a single 11 x 4 card. What’s genius is that it holds the key to dozens of combinations that the diner may design, based on a sandwich, rice bowl, noodle salad or lettuce wrap.

For instance, the classic banh mi sandwich ($6) made with crusty French baguette, pickled daikon radish, shredded carrot and jalapeños has several different possibilities. I chose one loaded with nem nuong (pork sausage). And was it ever loaded — this was the Hungry Man version of what’s often a lightweight sandwich.

Waiter Christina Day took our order by scrolling down an iPhone, entering the customized selections and sending them to a printer near the chef’s work station. My sandwich also could have been stuffed with sesame ginger beef, lemongrass chicken, roast pork or spicy hoisin tofu. Doubling the meat costs 2 bucks extra. Jalapeños too spicy? No problem deleting them, because every dish is made to order.

“Most of these recipes are from my mom, Huong Le,” owner Chris Le (pronounced lay) said. “A few are my grandmother’s.”

The Le family shares the familiar account of arriving in America after the fall of Saigon and becoming successful through hard work and perseverance. Their traditional Vietnamese family recipes were tweaked for a commercial setting in collaboration with Western-trained chef Jeremiah Caldwell, who now presides over the kitchen.

Le is a 2006 University of Oklahoma College of Architecture graduate who left his profession because of a love for food and the restaurant business. He and Caldwell had both worked together at Norman restaurant In the Raw before opening Coriander in a tough economy.

The duo has developed a loyal following in no small part because of vegan selections. Veggie
egg rolls (three for $5) and spring rolls (two for $4) are packed with
cucumber, lettuce, Vietnamese coriander and noodles. They’re little
works of culinary art.

partner came up with a vegetarian pho broth that fooled my aunt and
parents,” Le said. “They were astonished it didn’t have meat in it.”

vegetarian option, green papaya salad ($4) is a delicate mix of the
slivered fruit with carrots, peanuts and cilantro. Surprisingly not
sweet, it’s a tangy and refreshing burst of tropical flavor.

carnivores should try a beef short rib rice bowl ($7). It’s a generous
serving that’s a favorite with one of the many OU Vietnamese Student
Association members who have discovered the place. “We see some two or
three times a week and know exactly what they want,” Le said. They crave
an authentic taste from home.

thing Le gets excited about is the cafe’s pickles. “We make our own,”
he said. “We’re ecstatic that the farmers’ market is open, and we can
get our hands on some great Indian cucumbers.”

the greatest extent possible, Coriander sources its produce locally
from establishments such as Norman-based Artisan’s Pride premium
butcher, OKC’s Thanh-Son Tofu and Vinyard Fruit and Vegetable Company.
Le said they’re strong believers in being locally, socially and
environmentally responsible.

to the food, Coriander’s light noodle salad ($7) is its most popular
entrée. “Two-to-one, we sell the most of those,” Le said. “People get
full, but it’s really healthy and doesn’t bog you down for the rest of
the day.”

rice noodles are paired with peanuts, daikon, carrots, cilantro and your
choice of meat. I dressed mine with a tasty blend of toasted sesame
oil, rice wine vinegar and dab of Sriracha sauce. It went well with
exotic hibiscus-raspberry iced tea ($1.50).

is brownies or bread pudding (both $3.50). Coriander values being
closely tied to the community, and they’re strengthening that connection
one plate of noodles at a time.

Gazette’s restaurant review policy is to highlight the positive
aspects, and include constructive criticism regarding food, ambiance or
service when appropriate.

Doug Hill

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