I wanted to love this new Vietnamese BYOB in Lincoln Park. Owner Tuan Nguyen is the eldest brother of the siblings who run Uptown’s Pasteur and is hands-down one of the friendliest dining-room hosts in town. The rest of the staff he’s assembled here is equally as sweet, the room itself is airy and comfortable, and the menu is affordable. But if Simply It were situated among the authentic Vietnamese restaurants along Argyle Street, it simply wouldn’t stand out.
Starting with the classics, I found that standard spring rolls were fine, but pho was not. The broth was one-dimensional and the beef was tough and overcooked. Hanoi shrimp fritters (pictured, background) were greasy, but it’s tough to argue with fried sweet-potato nests filled with shrimp. Branching out to the massive menu’s more unique items, I tried the chicken wings stuffed with minced shrimp and mushrooms (weird, and not in a good way), “bean-curd chicken” (whole bird roasted to within an inch of its life à la National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation) and somewhat stinky (okay, really stinky) Dungeness crab (pictured, foreground) in a cloying tamarind glaze.
When Nguyen asked how the meal was while setting down complimentary lychee for dessert, my friends politely fibbed. I could honestly say that the shredded green-papaya salad was great and the beef banh mi sandwich was decent, but with little else to laud, I’m not sure that even the nicest guy in the world could make me a regular.