Cha Goi (Imperial Egg Rolls), Canh Chua Ca Tuyet (Tamarind Sea Bass Soup), Jumbo Tiger Prawns
Occupation: I.T. Referee
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Vung Tau Restaurant
Reviewed Vung Tau Restaurant: Sunday February 17, 2008
This is my favorite Vietnamese restaurant! Who cares that it is 48 miles from San Francisco? Yes, it is far, but if you are visiting friends in the South Bay or are on your way back from Santa Cruz, stop here! Go early because they close at 9pm even on a Saturday night.
In San Jose, you have a million Vietnamese restaurants to choose from. The interiors of most of those restaurants are basic and not always pleasant to look at. Vung Tau is different. It is a place where you can take your clients or your family and not raise an eyebrow about cleanliness. We saw families, groups of friends, romantic couples, and many non-Vietnamese customers. Want a better experience? Ask for a booth away from the door. There’s a lot of traffic through those doors!
Being half-Vietnamese, I ordered for my friends. We started with the egg roll appetizers and the shrimp/pork/jellyfish salad. Now, these egg rolls are not like the ones you get at your corner Chinese take-out. They are delicious! They are packed with meat and served with lettuce, basil, mint, and a dipping sauce. Pluck the basil and mint leaves and drop them onto the lettuce. Then put the egg roll onto the lettuce, roll it up, and dip it in the sauce. My mother makes egg rolls just like these, but of course Mom’s are better and bigger (Hi, Mom!). The shrimp/jellyfish salad is very light and refreshing. Normally, this salad is eaten in the heat of summer, but I’ll order it year round. The jellyfish has the consistency of sautéed mushrooms and isn’t fishy tasting. The vinegar-based dressing is splendid.
Then came the main courses. First was the grilled lemongrass chicken cooked in an earth pot with fried rice, shrimp, Chinese sausage, mushrooms, ginger, and onions. This dish is comfort food. It’s not fine dining and it’s not chic. It fills up the kids and keeps them happy. We also ordered the tamarind soup with sea bass, tomatoes, celery, bean sprouts, and rice paddy herbs. It is a very traditional Vietnamese soup that is sweetened by some pineapple. Many Western soups are made by adding vegetables while the broth is boiling, but with this soup, they probably add the ingredients after the broth is boiled, so you can taste the individual vegetables. The fish is so tender that it falls off the bone. In fact, we de-boned it with the soup ladle! For dessert, I ordered the mixed sweetened tropical fruit, jelly tapioca, and coconut milk served with shaved ice. Wait for hotter weather before ordering that.
I noticed that the waitstaff was very patient in explaining the dishes to other customers. They openly offered their opinions on which dishes were preferable. An opinionated waiter is a valuable waiter. They were also very attentive about how much water and tea was on the table. The check was delivered after dessert, and the hostess came to retrieve it. Now that’s teamwork.
In conclusion, there is more to Vietnamese food than pho. Vung Tau is fine Asian dining. Bring a Vietnamese friend or just ask the staff for recommendations. Soon, it will become YOUR favorite Vietnamese restaurant, too!
Occupation: Speech Technology Pioneer
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: NOPA
Reviewed Vung Tau Restaurant: Sunday February 17, 2008
I’d driven forty-five miles to have some good Vietnamese food for dinner and had high hopes. I’d eaten at both Tamarine in Palo Alto and Bong Su in San Francisco and had been impressed with both places. As I walked in the front door however, I was greeted with a different kind of experience altogether.
I was shown to my table. The tabletop was either dirty or stained (I didn’t want to rub it to determine which). This was the kind of restaurant supply furniture that is used in diners across America. There was cloying muzak playing. At the end of the day, however, it’s always about the food and so I avoided making any snap decisions. A young man came and took my order. I ordered everything at once. My appetizer was bi cuon (shredded pork with roasted rice flour soft salad rolls). These were spring rolls with long strings of pork. An order of six appeared in a few moments. This was obviously meant for more than one person, and I could only make it through a couple of them. They were served with a sauce that was both sweet and savory, but the rolls were a bit tough. It was hard to bite through them, and I considered asking for a knife and fork. I braved it with chopsticks and finished two of them.
My entrée was cao tuyet chien (crisp, Thai-style sea bass with chili onions and Thai sauce). The fish came out evidently fried in a coating surrounded by chunks of peppers and onions with everything in a pool of Thai sauce. The fish was quite good; it was moist and flaky. Unfortunately, the sauce was another variety of sweet and sour, and there was far too much of it. The fish tasted of sauce not fish. Too much of a good thing?
The dessert was not actually a dessert. Che dau do was actually a drink of sweetened kidney beans, jelly tapioca, coconut milk, and shaved ice. It was served with both a straw and spoon, and I was initially confused when it arrived at the start of my meal with my glass of Stone Cellars Merlot. A kind lady at the next table explained my conundrum away. The drink was good but a bit incongruous with my wine.
The service throughout the evening was fine if undistinguished. The waitress didn’t know how to react to my confusion about the dessert, but I’ll take responsibility for my own ignorance. The portions of the food were generous to a fault. I’d rather have smaller portions with more attention paid to the preparation. The ambiance was generic diner. All in all, I’d avoid a repeat visit and concentrate on the other properties in the family business.
Occupation: Mortgage Broker
Location: San Mateo
Favorite Restaurant: Le Charm French Bistro
Reviewed Vung Tau Restaurant: Tuesday February 12, 2008
Price: Fairly priced for top quality food and jumbo prawns, etc.
Atmosphere: Nice music as a soft background. Very comfortable atmosphere.
Family style, we had a booth. There were loud kids when we arrived but they sat us away from that. We got the BACK CORNER booth table for 2, which was great, quite, and private. Bathrooms are great.
Noise Level: Very good where I sat but there were loud kids in the beginning, so they sat us away from that, which was great. It was full at 7:30.
Culture: Nice artwork from Vietnam
Quality of Food: Excellent, the jumbo prawns were a REAL TREAT and large. They were presented in a very appetizing way on a plate. 10 big prawns, all cleaned and with the shells cut almost the way off, easy to eat, DELICIOUS sauce. They were cooked to perfection with a nice sauce that was not too spicy and not too greasy. I also had the crispy shrimp Imperial rolls and the sauce on this was my highlight. I don’t like spicy food, but this taste was worth coming back for, really different and delicious. They were perfect and crispy and fresh, fried small egg rolls with big shrimp in them, really good.
Highlight: The hostess in the front; she helped me with the menu before I sat down, showing me the specialties. She was very friendly and nice.
Food Delivery: Very fast food delivery and very fresh. This is a good thing with fried food.
Service: Many servers and busboys to bring food and water, very attentive. EXCELLENT SERVICE. Very warm and friendly.
Portion Size: We over ordered because we were starving. They had normal size portions, but the prawns portion had too many too eat, which was great.
Bang for Buck: Well priced for the quality and for the flavor
Wine Service: Many choices of drinks available I chose not to drink and drive home about 45 minutes from home
Wait For Table: 2 minute wait with no reservations
COMMENTS: Unusual food for me, and it was delicious. I am picky about my spices. I don’t like spicy food normally and this was really good.
- I would definitely go back and recommend to my friends
- Parking was free in their private lot, I parked in the back, and it was nearly full.
- It is located in San Jose, I don’t normally eat dinner down there, but one of my friends works near there and goes there frequently, and she loves this restaurant.
- I liked the lighting, it was dim, but I could clearly see what I was eating.
- My date loved everything, and the service great.
- Contemporary theme décor