Thanks to all who gave feedback on my request for a place to go on a data after a movie for Saturday night. In the end, hunger and convenience won out, and we decided on Green Papaya, Vietnamese place on Elm St. in Bethesda.
The bottom line? Good, but not great. So that we could have a choice of restaurants, I had made reservations for 9:45. We arrived at 9:25 and weren't seated until about 10:00, which was a bit irritating. More irritating still was the fact that the maitre d' doesn't give you much feedback on what's going on. There is a bar area, but no real place to comfortably wait, particularly if you're not going to order a drink.
The food itself, however, was good, at times quite good, but never inspired. [Aside--I'm terrible with the names of Vietnamese dishes, so hopefully will be able to convey what we ordered. Forgive me.] We had an order of spring rolls (the kind served cold and wrapped in rice paper, filled with vermicelli, cilantor, shrimp, maybe some mint?, not fried) with a peanut dipping sauce. I prefer a nuoc pham (fish sauce) dipping sauce to a peanut (which seems too rich and heavy for the lightness of the rolls). They were adequate. We also ordered a green papaya salad topped with "beef jerky". The sauce was yummy, although not hot enough, and I just wasn't in to the beef jerky on top. Overall, it was a dish that lacked much complexity.
I had the caramel tofu dish, which I requested extra spicy. They did a nice job of providing a "slow burn" spiciness, plus, it had a good flavor. Rich and deep, definite ginger flavors, lemongrass(?). It was a HUGE serving, and it appeared that almost all of the entrees were HUGE servings. I think my better half and I could have gotten away with two appetizers and one entree. Ohh, and even without requesting it, they provided hot sauce on the side if it wasn't spicey enough for me.
My date requested a pork dish, but got beef. We decided not to complain because it wasn't that bit a deal to either of us. This is where my lack of Vietnamese menu-language will show through. It was labeled as a "rice vermicilli" dish, but I couldn't say much more than that. Essentially, there were some lettuce leaves and cilantro, a serving of rice vermicilli and a bowl of grilled beef, peanuts and spices literally swimming in a sauce. At other restaurants, one was to "roll one's own" with the lettuce leaves. But, at other restaurants, usually the meat wasn't swimming in a sauce and there were more leaves and less meat. It wasn't clear whether this was a roll one's own dish or not, so my partner ate it with fork and knife, sort of all together.
For dessert, we shared a serving of ginger ice cream. Good, bits of candied ginger in it, but a bit too creamy, not enough ginger "bite" to it.
I had a lemonade (I've definitely had better lemonade at other Vietnamese places) and we shared a large san pellegrino. The total, with tax and tip, was $52. Considering the fact that we stuffed ourselves silly and the food was good, seems a reasonable deal. And yet, the food just wasn't inspired, didn't make you think wow, this is amazing. That said, I would return to the restaurant, but I wouldn't run back to it.
Anyway, thanks for all the feedback, and I look forward to trying Bangkok Garden and Andaman some other time.