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Restaurant Inspired by Asian Street Food Culture is the Buzz of Southwest Bend

After discovering the world of public relations wasn’t as glamorous as she envisioned, Cynthia Linh started a blog and an Instagram account in 2014.

Linh, 23 years old at the time, said she realized, “I have the rest of my life to work for somebody else.”

The blog is no longer active, but her Instagram account went on to land her first marketing client, which led to four and then five clients. Consequently, Linh launched a social media content creation agency and helped celebrity clients such as Kevin Hart and Ayesha Curry launch new restaurant concepts.

On Sept. 7, Linh and her husband and co-owner, Craig Cole, hosted a soft opening for JIĀ Asian Street Kitchen in the former space of Meadowlark in Bend’s Brookswood Meadow Plaza.

Cole redesigned the space as swanky bar and restaurant, reminiscent of the couple’s travels across Asia. The black and white tile behind the bar was replaced with brick and neon signs lend a trendy feel to the eatery

Dishes near and dear to her childhood

Linh was born to Chinese parents who moved to San Jose to escape the Vietnam War and raised amongst the influences of the city’s vibrant Vietnam Town.

“We really wanted to bring a piece of my culture and my heritage to Bend,” she said.

Linh said her father typically prepared the Hainanese chicken and rice ($18) on a weekly basis. In Linh’s version, the magic is in the sauce, she said.

Head Chef Kwan Singhakum’s menu showcases dishes with Chinese and Vietnamese influences that were near and dear to Linh’s childhood and are intended to be enjoyed family style. Jattalee Chalernhinthong of Dear Mom Cafe leant a hand with streamlining processes in the kitchen.

Star of the show

The star of the menu is beef bun bo hue ($40) — or as Linh describes it, pho’s spicy cousin.

A giant bone-in short rib rises out of a bowl of sweet, aromatic broth with lemon grass and chewy rice vermicelli noodles in this dish meant to be shared among two. The beef easily falls off the bone and is infused with the broth’s rich flavors.

A side plate with cabbage, bean sprouts, chili oil and lime allows the diner to mix the broth to their liking, adding as much or as little spice as desired.

Beef bun bo hue has yet to achieve the same popularity in the American mainstream, due a few curveball ingredients that are unfamiliar to the general public, such as pork knuckles or coagulated pork blood. Neither ingredient is to be found in JIĀ’s version of the beef noodle soup, but there are slices of Vietnamese pork sausage, an addition that is a little on the gelatinous side for my personal taste.

The soup, which originated in Vietnam’s city of Hue, is easily a dish I’d come back for, as the melt-in-your-mouth short rib and cylindrical noodles made beef bun bo hue the highlight of the evening.

The bowl may be modified to be gluten-free by removing the crispy garlic and onion garnish.

Menu highlights

One of the restaurant’s most popular dishes is the Saigon Bowl ($20), a classic Vietnamese salad dish made with vermicelli noodles, cabbage, cucumber, pickled carrots and crispy rolls. It’s well-suited for those looking for a light, healthy option.

Additional customer favorites within the first month of the restaurant’s opening have been the Far East Chx fried chicken wings glazed in honey, soy, ginger, garlic and sesame sauce ($14) and the green beans with chili paste and fried garlic ($12).

Old Town Road

JIĀ acquired its temporary liquor license last week, allowing bartender Tou Meechukhant to introduce the restaurant’s cocktail program along with a handful of beer and wine options.

The Old Town Road ($14) satisfied my craving for Thai Tea without the dairy. Meechukhant replaces simple syrup with Thai tea and adds Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth into the mix for a touch of earthiness. The old-fashioned style cocktail is smooth with a hint of sweetness and topped with a fragrant slice of dehydrated orange.

Order at the counter

JIĀ easily rose to the occasion when it came to the food and atmosphere. However, I was taken off guard by the ordering process, in which customers are asked to place their whole order — drinks, dinner and dessert, along with the tip — at the hostess stand.

Following the pandemic days, I am especially appreciative of the luxury of perusing a menu while seated at a table and being asked if I have any questions.

Linh and Cole are still deciding how best to use the upstairs event space, which has been outfitted with graffiti art, umbrellas hung from the ceiling, two arcade games and a TV. Cole said he envisions hosting a weekly occurrence.

“We want to bring the vibes to this community,” Linh said.

Source ; The Bulletin