Six of us met at Cao Nguyen for another meal of the South Bay Viet Lunch group. My email address is in my profile if you want to join this group. This is a repeat for some of us (though the previous visit was almost 2 years ago).
I repeated a couple past favorites and combined with new dishes to try. So we had:
#4 Banh khot (fried rice flour shrimp cups) - 2 orders
#23 Duck salad with ginger nuoc mam dressing
#5 Grilled Quail (though I think grilled was not quite the technique used)
#155 Claypot pork/catfish (I requested half pork & half catfish)
#150 Frog legs in yellow curry sauce (on the menu it's Ech Xao Lan)
#151 Sea cucumber and black mushroom (over baby bok choy)
#111 Butter fried chicken wings
#53 Bun Mam - pork and fish noodle soup with fat vermicelli
Important: Later today talking to my mom, I found out the 'mam' in this dish is not fermented shrimp, it's fermented or "pickled" fish. I thought it was fermented shrimp because our family calls the fermented shrimp paste 'mam', but I found out that's just short for 'mam tom' (tom = shrimp). The 'mam' in this dish is short for 'mam ca' (ca = fish). Sorry I mistranslated this dish to those at the table!
Our dishes ranged from $6.25 to $9.25. Total before tip was $86 with a couple drinks.
I'll provide my thoughts on the food later, but wanted to comment that our server (who seemed knowledgeable enough to be the manager or co-owner) was quite pushy while I was ordering, similar to what we experienced in 2006 with a different server. Even though I spoke Vietnamese and told her we came to try unusual things, she kept pushing the standards like spring rolls and canh chua (hot & sour soup), and she had to be reassured three times that we (esp. the white folks) would like the "smelly" Bun Mam (which turned out to be not smelly at all, but still good).
Also I give them points for serving the dishes (at least at first) in correct sequence (appetizers, then dishes that go with rice, then noodle soup), though some of the later dishes were out of sequence.
Also points for her giving me a lesson on how to make the noodle soup Bun Mam, once she found out I really enjoyed it.
The company was great! The smaller size made it easier to focus on one conversation at a time which was nice (esp. since conversation was always about food). And thanks to Cicely for taking photos!
Report from our visit in 2006:
2549 S King Rd # A16, San Jose, CA