If you order chả giò (fried spring rolls) in just about any Chicago Vietnamese restaurant, you’ll get a tasty mix of pork, mushrooms, and glass noodles rolled in a wheat wrapper and fried. Dip them in the nước chấm and enjoy. But at Sochi, the chefs use rice paper, which is harder to work with but fries up blistered, stretchy, and crunchy. Wrap a roll with lettuce, herbs, and pickles, dunk it in the sauce, and feel your head explode from the textures and flavors.
This is the first restaurant from wife and husband Chinh Pham and Son Do, and it has a vibrancy that sets it apart from some of the city’s loved but long-in-the-tooth Vietnamese spots. More like Parachute or Mi Tocaya Antojería, it’s a heritage bistro that blends careful takes on standards with creative fare, such as the seared duck salad. Served with drenched banana blossoms and ready to load onto shrimp chips, it’s fantastic. So is the crab fried rice with fresh crab, shrimp, poppy tobiko, and a thrum of Slap Ya Mama spice. Just one quibble: The chefs tone down the fish sauce, so some compositions, like the Sochi wings, are like jazz without bass. Yet there’s much to explore on the menu — just don’t miss those spring rolls.