French and Vietnamese make a natural fit

September 26, 1996|By Laura Rottenberg | Laura Rottenberg,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

You know someone has a thing for France when the length of his tie is festooned with one large, loud Eiffel Tower.

Chan Tsin and his family are not just casual Francophiles. The walls of their French bakery cum Vietnamese restaurant bear certificates and plaques from prestigious Parisian cooking academies designating Tsin a proficient baker of French pastries. And his daughter, Aina, returns soon from French culinary training to don her chef's hat and begin serving French dinners at Moulin de Paris.

Luckily for us, though, the little restaurant on the way to Annapolis dispenses vibrant, affordable Vietnamese cuisine in the meantime.

The front room is mostly given over to cafe tables and bins of baguettes, langues-de-chat (a type of cookie) and other French tidbits. At lunch, patrons' orders are pretty well split between French and Vietnamese offerings: country pate and croque monsieur (ham and cheese sandwich), or big bowls of pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) and grilled lemongrass chicken.

At our lunch visit, we opted to take the French route. We nibbled airy baguette slices before digging into a simple house salad of leafy lettuce, bell peppers and tomato wedges served with a well-balanced and herbaceous vinaigrette.

This segued into the croque monsieur and a Roquefort chicken salad. The sandwich paired Gruyere cheese and French ham on loaf-style white bread that was too pillowy for our taste. A sturdier bread would have accommodated the plush fillings better. The salad proved to be a larger version of the house salad, with the addition of green apple slivers, blue cheese chunks and slices of unseasoned poached chicken breast.

Dishes at lunch were pleasant enough, if overly subtle, but dinner is where the kitchen really shines. To date, only Vietnamese food is offered at night in the elegant forest-green back room. Shimmery portraits and pictures of languid flowers in gilded frames, gauzy white curtains and crisp white table linens give the room a French feel, but the cooking of Amyna Tsin, Chan Tsin's wife, is another story.

Begin your meal with an order of Vietnamese crispy rolls. Two golden rice paper packets enfold ground chicken, flecks of crab meat and bits of carrot. Lighter and more greaseless than many Chinese spring rolls, they come with a dipping sauce that is sweet, vinegary and delicious.

Another gorgeous starter is the Saigon soup -- a clear, flavorful broth crowded with fat rice noodles, tender shrimp, carrot slices, crab meat and barbecued pork cubes. Our waiter (Chan Tsin, sporting that wacky tie) offered us a bowl of intense chili sauce to swirl in the soup.

The evening's highlight was a special entree of grilled shrimp and pineapple skewers on fried rice with a small side salad. The fat shrimp were redolent of a sweet, smoky marinade, perfectly complemented by fragrant, savory fried rice and the crunchy salad napped in the house vinaigrette. Chicken in curry and coconut sauce was almost as stellar, with its smoldering sauce bathing chicken slices, carrots and sweet onions.

Dessert at both lunch and dinner are strictly French classics. The textbook appearance of butter cookies dotted with nuts; tiny lemon curd tarts; and mini-hazelnut chocolate tortes must have awarded Tsin high marks in pastry school.

To our palates, many of the French pastries are just a bit too sweet, however. "Vive la France" and all that, but I'll take another order of Vietnamese crispy rolls.

Moulin de Paris

578 Benfield Village Shopping Center, Severna Park

(410) 647-7699

Hours: Open Mondays through Saturdays for lunch and dinner

Credit cards: Major credit cards

Prices: lunch appetizers, $3.25-$5.95; lunch entrees, $3.95-$9.95; dinner appetizers, $3.95-$6.95; dinner entrees, $3.95-$16.95

Pub Date: 9/26/96

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