Yesterdays visit to Bodega Bistro was a fantastic success. The family is on the mend from our illness yesterday and was looking forward to another good meal.
We made 5:00 (Thurs) reservations, but they were not needed. The place was empty and when we left, there were maybe three tables occupied. I truly hope this was an anomoly and that is it being properly supported as we will want to return each year. We were seated at the large round table at the front and people watching from inside a safe restaurant in the Tenderloin adds to the hole-in-the-wall element of the place. More on the area later.
We followed the recommendations read online and started with the Nom (menu item #1) a shredded papaya salad w/ Vietnamese beef jerky bits. Wow! Many of us at the first bite thought it was a bit spicy, but with each successive bite, that was not the case and by the end, it remained a cool salad that would seemed perfect on a hot summer day. Each child, including the 2.5 year old, is pretty proficient with chopsticks and this was especially easy for her. She asked for more and polished it off. Highly recommended. About $5.60.
Next on the list was the Goi Cuon, which is listed on the menu as item #2. The line actually reads Cha Gio ou Goi Cuon which you can translate as fried egg rolls or soft imperial rolls. We went for the imperial rolls as our first direct comparison to Slanted Doors menu. They were every bit as liked as the SD version, but they are a little heavier on the mint and possibly cilantro. Very light, satisfying and love by all. Inside the translucent wraps were healthy sized pieces of shrimp and pork with rice and cucumbers. The peanut and soy dipping sauce was wonderful too. About $5.60.
For $9.00 came a huge plate of Bun Cha Ha Noi from the Hanoi Street Food section of the menu. This consisted of broiled pork slices that were very tender and oh so slightly fatty in a light sauce, almost marinade. Served alongside were rice vermicelli and a large pile of greens including various greens, mint leaves and lettuce cups for wrapping all together. This was most unusual and fun for the kids to put together. Our middle daughter could not get enough and nothing was left over. You will find a small pile of jullianed carrots and cucumbers served with it and putting a few on top really adds a nice complement to the other items in the dish. This dish was easily for sharing for 4 and each of us had seconds or more. Recommended for taste and for presentation.
For about $12.00 came the BBs version of shaking beef. As others have described it is heavier on the soy sauce, but still tasty. It is complimented by onions and red and green bell peppers. They use a filet mignon for the meat and it is nicely cubed for easy manipulation by small hands with chopsticks. Everyone liked this, but agreed that side by side with the SD, it loses. However, it is less than ½ the price. This is also a safe bet for the less adventuresome. Tastes very much like marinated beef kabobs. With a little Nom in between bites, the saltiness is quickly dissipated.
We finished the meals with another Hanoi Street Food item called Banh Xeo, an saffron colored, omelet looking, pancake fold over stir fry shrimp, pork and soy sprouts. Served with it are the same types of greens that come with the Bun Cha Ha Noi. This was not as much of a taste explosion as the other items as the seasoning (if any) was very light. It comes with a bowl of a warm sweet broth which adds some flavor. Everyone liked this also and we will order it again. This too was around $9.00.
Two in our party had Vietnamese coffee which was well liked, the rest had water. For desert, we shared two servings of their lemon glace sorbet and my 8 year old son had hazelnut ice cream. The sorbet was wonderful and I should have asked were they get it. My son had no problem finishing off the hazelnut. We also had their flan, which was okay. Every place can serve a good flan, but to have a really wonderful flan is rare. This was merely good.
The damage? $78 including tip. No appreciable amount of leftovers to come home. I would strongly recommend going with a large group to do the sample approach. I cant imagine going and not getting the salad, imperial rolls and one of the street food items, but I would not be able to eat that much, even with one other person to share.
We walked out the front door and crossed the street to catch the number 19 bus back the wharf around 6:50. The darkness has just started to settle over the city and the Tenderloin quickly took on a different visage. In front of the corner market where we waited, there was a small group of teens and occasionally they would be picked up by someone in an expensive car. We surmised this was a corner where drug deals were taking place. No one looked at us, talked to us, or bothered us in any way and I felt fine. My wife was bothered and if the bus was going to be another 15 minutes, I would have hailed a cab. I know that in the future, we will opt only for the 5:00 opening time for seating unless we taxi in and out. Keep in mind though that experiences like these are what make visits to such places even more memorable and mildly exciting.
The food is great and worth getting there. Do not avoid this place due to the area if you are visiting from out of town. I get a sense no one wants to mess with you and long as you dont mess with them. This may also be a reason to take a larger group though.
Next stop, Azizia.