Tuesday's lunch was a visit to Vung Tau 3 in Newark. While I've been to Tamarine in Palo Alto, owned by G2, this was my first visit to the first generation's restaurants.
The place filled up quickly at the lunch hour and the two servers were whirling dervishes trying to keep up with 20+ tables including a couple groups. The food does come out quickly once ordered.
Luckily, I'd ordered two things to hedge my bets. The banh khot didn't do much for me here. The coconut custardy part was soft and sort of curdled, and I found it too sweet in the balance. These weren't very crusty or browned either.
I liked the bahn dap bo much more. Cam Huong in Oakland has a sandwich made with similar grilled beef rolled tightly around soft onions, and I'd wished I could try a freshly grilled version some day. Well, it was right here and the fresh char made it tastier yet. I liked the idea of the fresh rice sheet wrapped around the crispy black sesame studded rice cracker, however, the rice noodle sheet was on the stale side and too firm for my taste. The vegetable garnishes included some tasty pickled daikon and carrot crinkle-cut sticks, rau ram, mint, basil, bean sprouts, and leafy lettuce. It was hard to put the whole thing together, and in the end, I found I liked the beef rolls with just a bit of the fresh herbs then dunked in the nuoc cham.
The most dazzling part of this meal was the iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk. I'd heard it praised many times on the board, and now I know understand and can heap my own praise on that pile. The richness of the brew and its utter smoothness and near syrupy texture even as the ice melted were unlike any other I've ever had. I wanted another one even though I was freezing in the drafty dining room and only fears of insomnia kept me in check.
I'd heard many negative reports on VT3 in its opening months. The room is very nice, in keeping with the higher prices here, and I enjoyed the chance to order something different than the simpler noodle houses provide. From this lunch, I imagine that some but not all of the service issues have been worked out. And, while the food was better than I expected, I suspect that it still falls short of the original in San Jose since I'm not craving a return visit. I will, however, be visiting the VTs in San Jose and Milpitas to get another iced coffee.