A bunch of Chowhounds descended upon Van's Vietnamese in Herndon for a liesurely and enjoyable meal. Joe H., Roe, Elyhtak, Marty L, Polly G., Flavrmeister, and myself ordered many dishes and found alot to like. For all our knowledge, experience, and bravado, though, I think we ordered badly. No pork, nothing grilled, no soup, no dumplings. How did we miss these things?
Three dishes were worthy of exclamation points. Chicken and basil in brown butter sauce was unlike anything I've had at Vietnamese, and was an elegant dish. Another dish started off with cakes of compressed noodles over which shrimp, vegetables, and sauce had been poured. "I could get used to this." I apologize if this dish made the rounds slowly (or stopped completely) as it passed my chair. I also appreciated the way they breaded and fried their seafood. Extra crunchy and extra nice. The only negative for me was the icky sweet caramel fish.
The shaky beef, while a good dish, is 'kind-of' similar to my all-time favorite Vietnamese Steak at Cafe Saigon, and therein lies the problem with Van's. As where at Cafe Saigon the steak is marinated and then grilled, the shaky beef at Van's is sauteed and sauced. So many things were served wet at Van's. Do they grill at all? Hard to tell from the menu. My overall impression was that while it's clearly a place that deserves attention, most of what we ordered was designed to comfort your average Chinese-American food fan. Heavily sauced and bolstered with sugar and salt. Very well executed, but I missed most of what I adore about Vietnamese food. This might have been our fault.