Located on the outskirts of the Westminster mall, S Restaurant bills itself as a place for "fine" Vietnamese dining. Open for a little over 2 months now, word has begun to spread about the place, due largely to a recent marketing blitz via the local Vietnamese media outlets.
Unable to cope with the seemingly endless wait at Broddard, I suggested we give S a try - since I had noticed the place the last time I was in the area. Our party included my (at times) picky Vietnamse parents and gurlfrend. I often take on a certain risk when I take my parents out to Vietnamese food - often times my Mom complains about the dishes and makes claim that she can often replicate and even better prepare the dishes at her home kitchen (which is almost always true - but the family could do without the maternal pronouncements during our meal). For some reason though, she really wanted to try this place out.
I realized that the second risk I took on when suggesting this new joint was that a place that bills itself as fine Vietnamese dining could be flirting with disaster. In my experience, a Vietnamese restaurant that chooses to stretch beyond its core competencies could see mixed results and be either categorized as either a Slanted Door (in SF) or in the worst case scenario - a Crustecean. Fortunately for all of us, this place was neither.
S has a limited but authentic menu. Broken into appetizers, soups, salads, entrees, and vegeterian options - Vietnamese food novices and experts can find themselves in comfortable confines with the menu's offerings. Basic staples, Pho Ga (Chicken Pho), Bo Kho (Vietnamase Beef Stew), sauteed beef salad, and some vermicelli (e.g., Bun Cha Gio) dishes stood out at first glance. Prices are reasonable - hovering around 6-9 dollars a dish and I did not notice anything breaching the 10-12 dollar range for any one item.
We split an order of "S" Skewers, Chicken Drummetes (Ga Chien Beurre), and beef salad for appetizers. Skewers were basic chicken, shrimp and beef offerings, complete with accompanying sauces. Standout was the chicken skewer, which paired well with the peanut sauce provided. The beef salad was excellent, beef cubes were sauteed to about a medium rare along with onions, tossed with mixed greens and a very light vinaigrette. Chicken drummettes were dusted in panko flakes and fried with butter. Nice buttery taste to the chicken, and no overwhelming greasiness. These came with an orange dipping sauce that was quite lovely - light and added a nice zip to the wings.
For entrees - Mom had chicken curry, Dad had the Bo Kho, GF had the bun cha gio (vermicelli with egg rolls), and I opted for the Bun Tom Thit Nuong (vermicelli with grilled shrimp and beef). The bun items were pretty elementary - nothing too new here. I already had my share of shrimp from the skewers, so the ones provided with the Bun were unremarkable. The beef I felt was a bit dry but GF had a few bites and liked it. I in turn tried out some of the pieces of egg roll with her dish and they were pretty good. Whoever is manning the fryer back there is doing a damn good job with keeping the grease level on these fried items to a minimum.
Dad's Bo Kho was pretty good. Earthy stew flavor, and nice serving of beef. Dad enjoyed it a good deal, almost too much drawing the death glare from Mom.
Mom's Chicken Curry was the hit. She managed to have everyone try a bite. The overwhelming verdict - a great curry. Strong introduction of sugar and sweetness with the first bite and finishing with a nice spicy flare-up of sorts - much to the surprise of the diner. If you do not like spicy curries, you might want to pass. The waitress explained that there are no differing levels of spice for the dish and that there was only one offering for "hot". Shame for those who do not like spicy foods (Mom and Gurlfrend) - but it was a sight to see as both ladies continued to pick at the dish - addicting they said it was.
Dessert consisted of fried plantains and vanilla ice cream, dressed with a rum/caramel sauce - VERY nice. A glance at the rest of the menu revealed offerings such as Tiramasu, Creme Brulee, another chocolate offering that I cannot seem to remember (involves a shot of espresso) and a slice of Vietnamese Cassava cake.
The restaurant is quite large and is very nice. Decorated with beautiful Vietnamese art pieces, ranging from nice floral prints and wood sculptures - this place has no hint of tackiness I have come to know from numerous restaurants I have visted in my years (most often owned by family friends). Full bar and wine list is available (I did not have a chance to peruse the list, sorry). It really is a nice place inside, and my parents commented that this is perhaps one of the restaurants strongest features - it's large and cranks out decent dishes - Broddard without the insanity apparently.
All of this, plus a pot of Vietnamese tea came to 80 dollars before tip.
This is a nice restaurant which should fit the bill for posters who wish to introduce people to Vietnamese food, or take clients/friends out to Vietnamese and are looking for a nice, clean, and presentable space. I bet Broddard and others like it can be categorized as more "authentic" but there were numerous Vietnamese families dining at the same time as we were, so that's a good sign.
545 Westminster Mall Dr.
Open 7 Days a Week