Reading about the excellent banh cuon available at Tay Ho in Oakland made me want a plate of them closer to home. I researched online and found that there aren't too many Vietnamese restaurants that serve banh cuon in San Francisco, and the closest one to my place, Vietnam House in the Tenderloin, was new to me and had no reports here, so I dragged DaveMP there for lunch.
Warm rolls filled with minced wood ear mushrooms and pork, served alongside a big fritter filled with a single giant prawn (still in the shell) and coins of a TBD vegetable (Dave though taro or sweet potato). Slices of "Vietnamese ham" (which looks like a forcemeat, similar in flavor/texture to bologna) lined the plate. This was good but not amazing. I didn't ask if the rice noodle sheets were made in-house but I suspect not.
Stunning. Great crispy texture to the exterior, plump shrimp, a sprinkle of dried shrimp on top, and a notable amount of coconut creaminess. These are time consuming to make, from what I gather, so not too many restaurants serve them--I'm not even sure if they're on the menu at Lotus Garden or if she'll just do them as a special request when she has time. I'd rank Vietnam House's version as better than Lotus Garden and as good as or better than Yummy Yummy. What I like best about Vietnamese food is the interplay between elements: sweet and funky, warm and cool, crunchy and silky--and all of these are on display in a tiny, delicate egg custard cup.
Pho tai nam
Usually when I'm in this neighborhood for soup, it's the light, almost effervescent pho ga at Turtle Tower that I'm after, so the change of pace with a beef broth appealed. I liked this broth, which had a strong flavor of star anise playing against the sweet depth of beef meat and bone flavor. Noodles were decent, but not house-made.
Total for lunch was $24, and we definitely ordered too much (but ate it all anyhow).
642 Eddy Street (between Larkin and Polk