As the pageant of our daily lives gets back to pre-“Interesting Times” levels, we need a place to stop, draw an unhurried breath, take our feet off the pedals and, well, chill out.
Located at the heart of Johnson City’s Med-Tech Corridor, The Roots Vietnamese Restaurant and Coffee Lounge is a calm oasis of delicious food and quiet times where one can enjoy a cup of excellent coffee or have a bite to eat while reviewing the past and contemplating the future in an atmosphere of Zen-like serenity.
The entry to The Roots is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling tinted windows that add an additional quality of airiness to a dining area that seats 40 or so seekers of serenity. The cashier and takeout station is located along the dining area’s rear wall, its counter and cabinetry supporting several intricate coffee makers of interesting design. The restrooms are accessed through a short hallway at right rear.
Appetizer: Spring Rolls
Our server Christopher brought my dining partner and I our drinks and stayed around to answer any questions we’d have about The Roots’ menu. When dining on Southeast Asian cuisine, my dining partner always orders the spring rolls as a way to check on the kitchen’s preparation and presentation of their menu items. With spring rolls, you are looking for fresh, crisp and crunchy vegetables in your filling, matched with a protein source, steamed shrimp in our case, with all of it filling a properly prepared and delicate rice paper wrapper. My dining partner ordered a plate ($6.95 for two) and was very pleased with the result. In addition to the steamed shrimp and its vegetable medley of julienned cucumber strips, sticky rice and mint leaves, the spring rolls came with a nicely spicy sweet chili sauce for dipping.
Grilled Pork and Fried Egg Rolls Noodle Bowl
After considering her options, my dining partner chose a noodle bowl topped with grilled pork and fried egg rolls: in Vietnamese: Bun Cha Gio Thit Nuong ($10.95). While the Bun noodles were tasty enough all by themselves; the addition of succulent grilled pork sections and some fried egg rolls in easy to handle pieces was just what my dining partner needed to renew her own serenity.
Broken Rice Specialty Entree
Though I was planning to order a bowl of Pho, the Vietnamese classic soup, done The Roots way, Christopher suggested I check out The Roots’ specialty called Con Tam Dac Biet ($14.95).
Here, you start with a substantial serving of “broken” rice, (rice grains broken during harvesting, milling or transport, differing from the usual whole or long grain rice only in size; there is nothing wrong with it.) To this is added a slice of chopped pork meatloaf grilled over an open flame, some shredded cooked pork mixed with onions and julienned potato, some crumbled shrimp mixed into tofu and then fried, and a salad of young lettuce and Asian vegetables. Once plated, the broken rice is garnished with a fried egg.
This is a dish where you take little bites of everything in front of you, reveling in an always-differing combination of flavors and textures that change from mouthful to mouthful. The pork meatloaf was especially good when combined with broken rice and a dribble of the fried egg’s yolk sticking to it. I also found the shredded pork to be well-suited when mixed with the Asian salad, and could have made a meal of just those two elements (which I may do the next time I dine here.)
Finally, the shrimp and tofu was good, though I found it a difficult food item to fit in with the meal. The fried shrimp and tofu’s flavor was subtle to the point of delicacy, a delicacy that, combining it with anything else would overwhelm its flavor and leave the diner with an unlooked-for texture reminiscent of cartilage. Despite this one instance, my platter of Con Tam Dac Biet was very good indeed.
The bottom line
Lunch or supper at The Roots is one of the best ways to unwind with your family or friends. The locale is an easy drive of a few minutes from any part of Johnson City, the interior is airy, well-lit and comfortable, service is impeccable and the menu selections are outstanding. Most of all, there is an attitude to The Roots that seems to create a serene outlook on daily life.
Believe me, as the “Interesting Times” fade like an old bruise, we all could do with some serenity and a place that fosters it.