Chez Thuy rewards the brave. The menu is large and varied, representing Vietnamese cuisine that blends French, Chinese, Thai and Indonesian elements. There are myriad noodle dishes, many familiar. There are appetizers, soups, meats and curries that are no doubt delicious, but that are available at about the same quality just about everywhere. The reward, then, of Chez Thuy is in the menu’s deeper cuts.
We started with a plate of duck wrapped in betel leaves. Betel leaves are similar to grape leaves, but are believed to have medicinal properties. It is chewed and treated as a stimulant mainly in the Asian world. Here, it was steamed and wrapped around a blend of duck meat, a five-spice blend, lemongrass, chili and pepper. It tasted and felt like sausage, and it was accompanied by a bowl of bright salmon-colored lime fish sauce. Served hot and alongside glass noodles and fresh greens like cucumber, lettuce and lemongrass, it was a substantial opener to the meal.
Next was a bowl of pho. If you’ve eaten at Chez Thuy, you know two things about the pho: it is delicious and the servings are gigantic. In this pho was a mix of steak brisket, sliced meatballs, tendon and tripe. Pho here comes with a large basket of accoutrements, including a branch of basil, jalapenos, lemongrass and cilantro. The light onion broth of the pho makes for exceptional sipping. The brisket and tripe were most ubiquitous — flanks of rare beef were finished in the piping hot broth and were juicy and tender. The tripe was most appreciated for its texture, which was spiked and resistant. Long white noodles helped gather up the herbs and onions in each bite. The base pho has no heat, but siracha was an easy fix for that.
Later came a plate of two glazed quails. The quails had been cleaned, but left unbutchered. They were each about the size of a baseball. They were glazed whole in a sweet and sour sauce, which by the time it got to the table, was a sweet glass crust like crème brulee. The meat inside was tender and, though required some uncouth eating tactics (picking it up and gnawing meat off the little car cass), was well worth the effort. The quails came beside a large pile of Vietnamese coleslaw — cold and lightly dressed cabbage that took a lot of flavor from glazed pineapple chunks mixed in.
Last was a bowl of Malaysian seafood. (There was an attempt at the beginning to order more, like the Cornish hen hot pot or the lobster tamarind, but our waiter assured us there wasn’t enough room on the table for more food.) The bowl’s base was a coconut milk and tomato-based sauce that was rich and sweet. Mixed in the bowl were peeled and succulent shrimp tails, slices of chayote squash, large chunks of zucchini, tomato slices, peppercorns, jalapenos and some herbs. I dumped ladles of it onto a plate of rice and indulged hard. The creaminess and flavor harmony of the dish was pure comfort.
Now, I’ve been to Chez Thuy many times — as have many Boulder County folks. It’s a staple. You probably already know then that service is hit and miss. There are language and cultural barriers between the guests and the wait staff. Just be patient. It’s worth it. Don’t read Yelp reviews unless being coddled at suppertime is important to you. Be brave, take in the interesting scenery, order something weird and get the reward of an authentic experience.