Had a good meal here tonight.
The biggest disappointment was that the menu was different from the one online - maybe that one's only for Vung Tau I, in San Jose? A couple of the dishes I'd wanted to try weren't available at this location (the rice noodles with pork and coconut milk, and the lime cured red snapper with banana blossoms). Also, because the website is fairly posh-looking, I was surprised by the very casual, diner-like interior.
banh khot (shrimp cupcakes) - these looked a little rougher than the versions at Tamarine (Palo Alto) and La Vie (SF) - they were coconutty, like Tamarine's, but relatively unseasoned (intended for dipping in nuoc cham) like La Vie's. Unlike the other the banh khot at Tamarine and La Vie, these had a sprinkling of powdered dried shrimp on top. The banh khot crust wasn't as well developed as at La Vie, but they were still good.
cha gio (crispy spring rolls) - these were very good - enormous, perfectly fried, flavorful filling.
snapper salad - similar to the red snapper salad I had wanted, except with cabbage instead of banana blossoms. The snapper was marinated in lime juice and served mixed in a pile of shredded cabbage, celery, onion, jalapeno, herbs, and fried shallot, served with fried shrimp chips. I think it never came together as a whole because of the fairly large pieces of fish and raw vegetables, and the different densities of the ingredients - it was hard to get a scoopful of salad with equal amounts of all ingredients, because the lighter ones would fall off, so you'd end up with a mouthful of tart snapper, without the balancing characteristics of the other components.
papaya salad with dried sesame beef - I'm not sure the thin slices of (albeit excellent) beef jerky topping the salad did anything for me - I enjoyed them, but couldn't figure out how they were supposed to integrate into the rest of the salad. The salad itself was good (in the past year, I've developed a strong preference for Lao-style papaya salad, so the subtler Vietnamese version seems less exciting now).
com bo luc lac (shaking beef) - this is the best version of shaking beef that I've had (I've had it at Slanted Door, La Vie, and Tamarine). I don't know what cut they're using, but it's not filet, which is probably why I like it... I just really don't like filet mignon marinated in soy sauce. It doesn't taste good to me. I had just about given up on shaking beef, but wanted to give it one last try, and I'm glad it did. The beef tasted of beef, not soy sauce, and was balanced by the slightest sweetness. The texture was perfect - shaking beef is really easy to overcook because the cubes are so small, but these had that lovely caramelized exterior and tender interior. The accompanying greens were a fairly sad looking pile iceberg lettuce and pink mealy tomato (I do prefer the sturdier, spicier greens the other restaurants pair with their versions of shaking beef. Just lose the filet mignon!)
catfish clay pot - this was really good - well balanced flavors, perfect texture.
Overall, a satisfying meal, but not good enough for me to make the trip from Oakland again. With the exception of the shaking beef, I think all of these dishes (or ones similar to them) are done as well if not better at La Vie in SF (and La Vie has the advantage of having really outstanding crab dishes).