Tastes of the Little City: Rice Paper

By Julie Walters
Falls Church Times Staff
January 12, 2014

School Homework at Eden Center


Do you think kids would enjoy a school lunch of Vietnamese grilled lemongrass beef with rice vermicelli, sliced cucumber, pickled carrots with daikon, and mint leaves, served in lettuce wraps? With fish sauce for dipping on the side?

Here in Falls Church, we might get the chance to find out.

For this review, I invited Richard Kane, Food Service Director for Falls Church City Public Schools, to join me for lunch at Rice Paper, an excellent, two-year old Eden Center eatery.

Rice Paper is my favorite of all the Eden Center sit-down restaurants. (Although Eden Kitchen, a new restaurant from the owners of Pho Factory in Alexandria, just opened, so we’ll see.) I love everything about Rice Paper. The decor is beautiful and comfortable. Its long, narrow dining room flanked by a patterned, dandelion-color wall with mirror accents on one side, and an exposed brick wall on the other, reminds me of a neighborhood Parisian Bistro. The service is no nonsense, but friendly and helpful. And the food is consistently good, and often great.IMG_6269

Try walking into Rice Paper without being transported by the aromas of Southeast Asia. You know what it is, right? It’s the fish sauce. Fish sauce is the key to Vietnamese cuisine. It’s the centerpiece of the salty, sweet, and sour flavor hallmark of Southeast Asian cooking. I just wish “fish sauce” were named something more kid-friendly like “Magic Sauce,” or “Alien Monster Sauce!” There may be no way to convince uninitiated school-age children to eat “fish sauce.” But, Richard Kane would like to try.

Richard is always on the lookout for fresh, new ideas to include on the school lunch menu. So, since Falls Church has such a cornucopia of ethnic food options, I thought it’d be fun to introduce Richard to Rice Paper after he mentioned that he had never eaten at a Vietnamese restaurant.

Richard’s philosophy on school lunch is clear: prepare and serve fresh, nutritious, and delicious food that exposes children’s palates to a variety of healthy flavors. If we reach them when they’re young, Richard believes, we can build healthy eaters for a lifetime. “We offer samples to introduce students to new foods and it also gives us a chance to cook new things. We work with students as often as we can to teach nutritional value of foods to empower them with the knowledge needed to make informed choices. The USDA is advocating for more fruits and vegetables as a way of fighting childhood obesity. Increasing the variety we offer and incorporating more ethnic foods into our menus will help us achieve this goal. Our school system is very diverse and our students enjoy international cuisine. The possibilities are endless…,” he said.

The possibilities are in fact endless. And so is, as Richard discovered, Rice Paper’s menu.

The menu at Rice Paper is a tome with more than 125 items. It can seem intimidating but, if you take your time, you’ll be rewarded with an education in Vietnamese cuisine. The menu hits all the highlights, and features Bún (Rice Vermicelli bowls), Lâu (Hot Pots), Conge (Rice Porridge), and, of course Pho (Beef Noodle Soups). Many of the dishes are traditional and some are beautifully updated classics. A few are served with social accoutrement, such as make-your-own rice paper wraps and hot pots (a metal pot of flavorful broth surrounded by meat and vegetables at the center of the dining table. Think Vietnamese fondue).IMG_6156

My hands-down favorite Rice Paper dish is the grilled lemongrass beef served with, you guessed it, rice paper. I’ve ordered it on every visit and, each time, it is pull-apart tender and packed with tangy lemongrass and garlic flavor. The beef is served on skewers and is meant to be assembled and eaten wrapped in rice paper or lettuce leaves with the accompanying steamed rice vermicelli, pickled carrots and daikon radish, cucumber, and fresh mint leaves. But first, you have to soften the “doily-like” (as Richard Kane described it) dry rice paper yourself in the warm water served to the table in a specially-made dipping stand. Richard said the experience “was a treat for me because I felt like a kid again playing with my food. It was fun!” (The rice paper wrap dishes begin at number 100 on the menu.)

Another must try at Rice Paper is the Roasted Quail appetizer. Normally, I don’t bother with quail — I usually don’t like to work that hard for small amounts of meat on anything other than steamed crabs. But, this dish is the exception. The quail is roasted in a perfect caramelized sauce that’s so complex, I don’t even care about how hard I have to work to get the measly bits of meat from the tiny bird. The lime juice and pepper sauce complete the gastrique. (By the way, if you’ve noticed a few French influences in the descriptions, you’re paying close attention.)

The traditional dishesIMG_6271 at Rice Paper are also good, but, frankly, I’ve had better Pho. The broken rice dishes (steamed, crushed rice grains), while apparently quite popular, are also a bit hit or miss. If you want to sample an array of traditional foods, try #24, which includes sausage with shrimp paste wrapped in dried bean curd, an unusual egg custard, shredded pork, a grilled pork chop, and a diner-style fried egg on top. My friend and I were glad we tried it, but we probably wouldn’t order it again.

When Richard and I had lunch, he enthusiastically sampled everything we ordered – including the stuff he didn’t usually like that much. (He knows how important it is to be a role model when encouraging kids to try different foods, even if they think they don’t like it.) We even tried the curry vegetables and tofu in coconut milk. Richard remains “unconvinced that tofu can be anything but just okay.”IMG_6248

At lunch time, Rice Paper is always crowded – in a good way. As Richard pointed out, “empty restaurants create a sense of something wrong — like everyone knows this secret about not eating there except for me.” Now, however, Richard Kane is in on the secret of Vietnamese cuisine. I look forward to seeing how Falls Church city schools benefit from his knowledge.

Julie Walters is a resident of Falls Church and writes children’s books (mostly about food). She’s the daughter of a food editor, the wife of a man who knows his Louisiana cuisine, and the mother of a 5 year old with a ridiculously sophisticated palate. You can reach her at [email protected].

(All photos copyright: Julie Walters)

The Details:

6775 Wilson Blvd, Falls Church, VA 22044
Hours of Operation:
Mon – Sun: 10:00 am-10:00 pm
Forms of Payment Accepted:
Cash/Credit Cards
Ample parking available

January 12, 2014 


6 Responses to “Tastes of the Little City: Rice Paper”

  1. Jim Breiling, North Arlington on January 12th, 2014 10:52 pm

    So glad you’re visiting and reporting on restaurants at Eden Center. It seems like a site of many interesting opportunities.

    Thank you for your very informative and positive review; it puts Rice Paper on our list. We almost went there Friday night, but instead (mostly by happen chance) ate at Eden Kitchen. Very good pho soup.

  2. Julie Walters on January 13th, 2014 8:48 am

    Thank you, Jim! And thanks for sharing your impression of Eden Kitchen. It’s on the list!

  3. Susan on January 13th, 2014 10:53 am

    I love Rice Paper – and love the idea of adding some of those flavors to the school lunches. My daughter is a huge fan of lunch at school and will eat anything there (as opposed to home!).

  4. Julie Walters Falls Church on January 20th, 2014 7:49 pm

    Check out Thursday, Jan. 30th on the Mt. Daniel School lunch menu!

  5. Jim Breiling, North Arlington on January 20th, 2014 8:03 pm

    Saw today or Sunday that Rice Paper was one of three Little City restaurants included in a list of top DC area restaurants.

  6. Julie Walters Falls Church on January 20th, 2014 10:11 pm

    Jim, I just saw that too! Now you *really* have to try it!

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