Alexandra, Missy P and Lee and I decided to check out Nha Trang, a little Vietnamese spot near Lake Merritt. Missy P had really enjoyed the imperial rolls in the past and we were all a bit intriguted by the Seven Courses of Fish (dac biet ca 7 mon) - a play on Seven courses of beef that can be found at certain Vietnamese spots. None of us are Vietnamese experts, so we were kind of out of our league - the menu did have lots of frog and goat dishes as well as pho and bun and the standards.
Along with the imperial rolls and seven courses of fish we also ordered fried tofu with lemongrass, eggplant with basil and special house duck (tiet canh vit).
The service was a bit of a challenge due to a language barrier - we spoke no Vietnamese and the waitress seemed to speak very little english so it was hard to tell if she was telling us not to order a dish cause we wouldn't like it or because she didn't like it or if it just wasn't good. So we plowed ahead and figured it'd be interesting at least!
We'd brought a bottle of wine and they brought out a corkscrew for us to deal with and these tiny brandy-type glasses - kind of like Barbie-doll wine glasses - it was pretty funny! Obviously, wine's not often seen there - they were also out of the Vietnamese beer and had only Heineken and Bud, I think.
Once the food started coming out, we had a hard time a. fitting it all on the table and b. even telling what each dish was (except for the obvious tofu, eggplant and imperial rolls, all of which were just ok) and with the language barrier, we weren't really getting much help.
First dish out was what turned out to be the house special duck - it was a plate of red, gelationous stuff with chopped duck in it - like a huge red oozy pancake. Served with a huge rice cracker, a plate of herbs and some dipping sauce. First we had no idea what this was and the color was almost scary - but we dug in best we could - until the waitress saw us - at which point she jumped in and showed up to put some sauce at the bottom of a bowl, then break up the rice cracker, then the duck, then the herbs and more sauce - that was better - but the duck didn't have much flavor on its own at all - and what made it so gelatinous?! If anyone recognizes this, we'd love to know what was in it - but don't think we'd order it again. Funny, no one took the leftovers home of this!
We're still not sure what the 7 courses of fish were - best we can remember there was a fish salad with what tasted like salt cod and julienned pickled veggies (good), fish in a vinegar sauce (ok), one plate with three preps of what seemed like fish cakes - one wrapped in some kind of leaves and one wrapped in something else (we couldn't figure out what) and then what looked like a flat meatball with peas, black pepper and coconut milk - that was really good. This plate was served with rice papers (to soak ourselves at the table) and a ginger/lemongrass/hot pepper sauce. Last was a fish congee/jook type dish that was really good - very gingery. Now either they skipped one dish or we forgot one (but they'd brought out the oranges for dessert before bringing out the congee, so I think they 'forgot' the last dish).
All in all, kind of an odd spot, mostly I think because of the language and cultural differences - it's got a nice patio that overlooks some tennis courts and Lake Merritt - but we got the feeling towards the end of dinner, that they really wanted us out of there so they could get on with their party (karaoke, smoking and women in slinky dresses).