My husband met me in downtown Berkeley for lunch yesterday and we decided to go to Le Regal for lunch since it was close to the BART station. As far as ambience -- something I don't care much for to begin with -- the decor was pretty nice as far as Vietnamese semi-hole-in-the-walls go. I really don't think much of decor because most of the best viet places we're used to are the holes in the wall with plastic chairs and the like.
The menu is pretty small by our standards. Their pho selection was disappointing enough that my husband -- Vietnam born with pho broth for blood, I'm sure -- opted for something else. He ended up getting a rice plate: com thit tom nuong cha gio (rice with grilled por, shrimp and eggrolls.) I had a craving for papaya salad but changed my mind quickly when I saw bo luc lac (shaking beef) on the menu as the "chef's special".
My bo luc lac came out first. I'd had this dish before at other places (notably 2 Chez in Sunnyvale, on Lawrence Expressway) so I had an idea what I was craving. It's usually a tender cubed steak, marinated in a delish marinade of fish sauce, lemon, chili and sugar, stirfried with onions and served over a bed of lettuce. When done right, the balance of flavors in the marinade is just heavenly. Le Regal's rendition was such a sore disappointment that I don't even know where to begin. First off, it was served with a soggy looking, tastless steamed cabbage and carrot vegetable mixture. While the steak itself was generously sauced, it was nothing like what I was hoping for. Instead of the gentle blend of fish sauce, lemon and chili, it tasted more like a buttery steak, drowned in hoisin. Still edible but I ended up giving it to my husband.
His dish came out a few minutes after mine. It's worth noting that the rice at Le Regal is the regular jasmine rice vs. broken rice. I've found that most places use regular rice rather than the broken rice so this isn't too bad. The best thing on the plate was the cha gio (eggrolls); the thit nuong (grilled pork) was okay, more on the bland side than flavorful; and the tom nuong (grilled shrimp) were nicely cooked but tasteless, like there wasn't any marinade on them. A nice addition was the fried shallots on top of the pork as well as the usual scallion oil and peanuts. Their fish sauce was nothing special -- more sweet than pungent with a few shreds of carrot and daikon in it. There was no heat, though, so I had to add a squirt of sriracha (no crushed chili paste available, unfortunately) to make it palatable for myself and my husband.
All in all, we were so disappointed with our meal that we ended up finishing up lunch by going to Top Dog down the block for a kielbasa (me) and a hot link (him).
We're very spoiled off of the good Vietnamese cuisine you can get all over the South Bay. Though we had to admit that if you're trying to introduce someone to Vietnamese food who is picky or scared of ethnic foods, Le Regal might not be a bad place to start. Their flavors are more tailored to American tastes and there's no "scary" stuff like tripe, tendon, etc. on the menu.