A recent thread on the NAF board about getting around our fair city talked about parking as destiny sometimes in determining our dining choices. Last weekend I was on my way back to the Viet porridge place in the Tenderloin when the parking gods put me in a space in front of Ngoc Mai. Since a post on this board had recommended the Hue specialties here ([BROKEN LINK REMOVED]), I decided to try this instead.
I was thrilled to see a long list of appetizers, as well as 14 Hue dishes. Because I had porridge on the brain, I ordered Chao Vit (duck porridge, $6) instead of one of the Hue specialties. This was only fair, with a texture that reminded me of packaged cream of rice, and tough yet plentiful pieces of bony steamed duck. The rubbery and bologna-like Cha Hue (pork patty, $2) ordered as an extra accompaniment was just okay and enjoyed more the next day in a sandwich.
However, what endears me to Ngoc Mai is the glorious banh khot (8 Vietnamese mini crepes, $6). These are the fried-style rather than steamed. The crisp rims of the greasy coconut-scented shells segued to creamy custardy middles and chewy bottoms. The single curled-up shrimp in each was tender and NOT overcooked. Most had the tail shells intact but were not crisp enough to enjoy eating, so I guess thats the trade-off. The assortment of green garnishes to wrap around each morsel was great: green leaf lettuce, spearmint, peppermint, rau ram, basil, and cilantro. [Ms. Patis' recent post about mint made me more conscious about which varieties are on the plate.] The dipping sauce was a little too sweet for this dish and benefited from some extra lime juice.
What other dishes do folks like here?
Ngoc Mai Restaurant
547 Hyde St.
Monday Saturday 10-6