Having been charmed and comforted by my overdue revisit to Vung Tau in San Jose the prior weekend (see link), I was really excited to return w/ my husband this past weekend for lunch before soaking in the Jazz festival. I have a photo for each course so will write a separate brief post for each dish since I don't know how to merge photos.
This time, we were seated in the other dining area through the left corridor. The room had a similar look to the other room but was more dominated by soothing aquamarine hues and had different upholstery. Once again, the rooms were mostly filled w/ Vietnamese families, and it's nice that there are several large booths to accommodate larger groups should they want the intimacy of a booth. The other room has a more lively, connected feel to it while this one felt more remote and private but still very comfy.
We ordered three dishes to sample (some based on CH recs). They came out in this order:
Goi du du bo kho: shredded green papaya salad w/ dried sesame beef and basil. $7.50. This dish was a masterpiece, and I fell in love w/ it at first bite. It embodies that balanced concept often found in SE Asian cuisine of "hot sour salty sweet." The picture makes it look two-dimensional (arg! should have angled the plate), but the flavors were anything but as they popped in my mouth.
First, the papaya was *fluffy*, as if it had been freshly-shaven. It was a generous portion w/ a mound of at least two cups worth. The dried sesame beef or bo kho was outstanding. It reminded me of my mom's beef jerky but more delicate and complex...spicy, salty, sweet w/ a plummy quality. Texture was dry but not at all too tough or leathery. Lots of fresh Thai basil capped off the dish, along w/ a drizzling of Sriracha and some sort of chile oil vinaigrette that pooled on the bottom.
The presentation and pungent flavors and contrasting textures harmonized into one breath-taking dish. This was the best papaya salad I've ever eaten and now one of my favorite dishes at Vung Tau. Highly recommended.