PHOTO BY JENNIFER SILVERBERG
Anne Croy has praise for Mai Lee: "At this point it feels like family."
Anne Croy's passion for food was ignited on her aunt and uncle's 440-acre grain farm in west-central Oklahoma, where she spent her summers watching her aunt and uncle churn fresh cream into butter, raise livestock and tend to their large orchard.
It was about as far removed from southeast Asian as you can get, so when Croy had her first taste of Vietnamese cooking while away at college in Arizona, it was as if an entire new world opened up to her. "It was really different from any food I had been accustomed to and that I grew up with," Croy explains. "It certainly wasn't farm food. There were so many different vegetables and flavors that I just wasn't familiar with."
Pastaria's executive pastry chef Anne Croy.
As the executive pastry chef at Pastaria (7734 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton; 314-862-6603)
, Croy's working life is spent exploring the sweet side of Italian flavors. Vietnamese, however, remains her go-to — the comfort food she turns to after a long day or the dinner of choice for a night out with her husband.
"We both like a little bit of spiciness but also sour and bitter. There are enough of those flavor profiles in Vietnamese food to keep us satisfied," Croy says. "Plus, we just like those clean, clear flavors — basil, cilantro, fish sauce — that aren't masked with a lot of richness and heaviness. I'm actually trying to work these flavors into a gelato or sorbetto. That will be interesting."
Until those sorbettos set, here are Chef Croy's picks for St. Louis' best Vietnamese food.
8396 Musick Memorial Drive, Brentwood; 314-645-2835
"We've been going to Mai Lee for about twenty years, so at this point it feels like family. We always get their pho and any of their other soups."
Dao Tien Bistro
8600 Olive Boulevard, University City; 314-995-6960
"It's just such a happy place to go into. The people are so nice; the food is clean and clear and nutritious and really fresh. We get their noodle bowls — I really like the one with pork."
Pho Long Restaurant
8620 Olive Boulevard, University City; 314-997-1218
"This is where we go for pho. We really love theirs."
3195 South Grand Boulevard; 314-664-7435
"We have some friends who are gluten-free. When they come to town we go here because they are willing to talk them through the options that are available to them. We like a lot of their dishes — we've probably eaten all of them."
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