Though you wouldn’t know to look at it, a non-descript storefront in Gray is hands down one of the best restaurants in the Tri-Cities.

Here I find one of my favorite food creations ever, and new, delicious offerings on their frequently updated menu. Your visit here will fill your need for peace and quiet, letting you leave a busy world behind for momentary serenity and a sense of calm. Where else but at KALM Bistro?

First impressions

KALM Bistro has seven tables seating four guests each, plus a standup counter for another six in an almost too-cozy dining room. Restrooms are located down a rear hallway, just past their busy carry-out counter. The kitchen occupies the right third of the storefront, separated from the dining room by a half-height wall that all but invites peeking from patrons.

The face of KALM Bistro is the capable and friendly Sai, who personally meets, greets and seats the restaurant’s patrons, as he did with the Retiree, my dining partner and I when we stopped in for supper recently.

Summer Rolls

While the three of us pondered KALM Bistro’s new menu, I asked Sai to bring us an order of Cha Gio, vegetarian summer rolls (four for $5), to munch on while deciding what our entrees were going to be. The summer rolls were simplicity itself: finely diced Asian vegetables rolled up in rice paper and deep-fried until crispy and gold. A bite of summer roll was a hot, steamy-soft mouthful of fresh vegetables enrobed in a nutty-flavored and crunchy wrapper. The sweet chili sauce supplied for dipping was almost an afterthought.

Teriyaki Chicken Fried Rice

The Retiree’s entrée choice was one of KALM Bistro’s daily specials, the Teriyaki Chicken Fried Rice platter ($12). Here, white meat chicken pieces are stir-fried with a good quantity of fresh sliced zucchini, carrot, onion, mushroom and broccoli in a brown oyster sauce. The fried rice, scented with fragrant jasmine, bolstered with cooked peas, diced carrots and bits of roast pork combined with the chicken and veggie stir-fry to create a unified whole from the individual elements; all of it positively yummy.

Shakin’ Beef

My dining partner decided on an entrée of KALM Bistro’s Shakin’ Beef ($11). KALM’s version requires a lot of shaking of the wok during cooking to prevent the main ingredient (ribeye steak cut into one-inch cubes) from cooking beyond a good searing, and occurs just prior to the addition of diced onion and watercress. Next in the wok is oyster sauce and other spices, helping the dish to come deliciously into its own. Cucumber cut on the bias, together with sliced tomato, onion ringlets and leaf lettuce helped Shakin’ Beef, first to completion and then to consumption by my dining partner.

Pho Tai Bo Vien: Pho with eye of round and meatballs

Many of you know of my predilection for a bowl of beef noodle soup as created in the country of Vietnam. While the Vietnamese version, (spelled “Pho” but pronounced “Fuh”) contains noodles (of course) it is usually augmented with no more than three different forms of a protein source, generally beef, pork or both. Vegetables are served on the side, along with any spices and sauces. Though the added elements lend their own support to the dish, it is the beef broth that is the star of the show, and here is where KALM Bistro achieves their pride of place.

I previously spoke of the wall dividing KALM Bistro’s kitchen from the dining room.

A look behind that wall would reveal several large stockpots each containing a quantity of beef bones bubbling away gently. Each stockpot will take 18 hours before rendering up the bones, extracting the last bit of flavor into a rich broth, limpid and redolent of beefy goodness, and having a color as golden as a summer sunrise.

Though KALM Bistro has 11 versions of Pho, my choice for the evening was Pho Tai Bo Vien ($10.50), Pho with paper-thin slices of very rare eye of round beef, together with some half-slices of mildly spiced miniature meatballs. Jalapeno, bean sprouts, cilantro and Thai basil were near to hand as custom add-ins.

Truly, Pho as created by KALM Bistro is to be savored and lingered over.

Before I start, I always remove my wristwatch and put it in my pocket.

Time has no meaning when dining on Pho this good.

The bottom line

Sai and his team are running one of the best restaurants in the Tri-Cities.

KALM Bistro is the best purveyor of Vietnamese and Southeast Asian cookery. Period.

They are the undisputed gold standard for a proper bowl of Pho.

KALM Bistro does not take reservations, so be sure to set time aside and arrive early to get a table.

Remember my earlier mention of KALM Bistro updating their menu?

I have two words for you.

Sushi.

Sashimi.

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