I met with a few hounds today for a lingering weekday lunch at what is currently my favorite all-around Viet restaurant in the South Bay, Vung Tau (www.vungtaurestaurant.com). Six of us sampled seven dishes, and I must say, my fondness for this place deepens w/ each visit.
1. Cha Gio ($7.75)...fried spring rolls served w/ lettuce, herbs, and nuoc cham.
2. Goi Du Du Bo Kho ($7.50)...shredded green papaya salad with dried sesame beef and basil.
3. Goi Ngo Sen Tom Thit ($10.95)...lotus root salad with shrimp, lean pork loin, and mint with fish sauce dressing.
4. Com Cari Vang ($7.95)...chicken with madras curry served with rice.
5. Thit Kho Tau Dua Gia ($9.50)...slow-cooked pork belly and eggs in broth served with pickled veggies.
6. Canh Sung Vung Tau ($12.95)...tamarind soup with catfish, salted soybean, lemongrass, tomatoes, celery, and basil.
7. Banh Hoi Bo Goi La Chuoi ($10.50)...steamed rice vermicelli served with lemongrass beef grilled in banana leaf. Served w/ lettuce, herbs, and nuoc cham.
Everything ranged from solid to stupendous, and having eaten there three times now in the past couple of months, I am impressed w/ their consistency. The papaya salad looked and tasted nearly identical to the one I had weeks before.
While everything had its unique visual and flavor sensation, highlights for me included the papaya salad (still a masterpiece!), lotus root salad, and slow-cooked pork belly w/ hard-cooked egg. The pork belly was actually labeled on the menu as pork shoulder, but given how tasty the tender and unctuous belly turned out to be, there was no need to quibble w/ this detail. The genius of this dish was really about the interplay among the richness of the pork and egg, the sweet and savory of the broth, the zestiness of the marinated veggies, and the soothing platform of rice. I was expecting a more caramelized and syrupy sauce, but I actually preferred the lightness of the broth.
The catfish soup was full of rich and tangy flavor, but I felt neutral about the catfish and the broth was a bit more oily and heavy than I like. I enjoyed the flattened beef in the banh hoi dish, as it was lightly infused w/ herbal notes from banana leaf and lemongrass. While they prepare the banh hoi (rice vermicelli patties) very nicely there, I'm realizing that I prefer bun preps over banh hoi. I'd rather have my meat on top of loose noodles. The chicken curry dish was my least favorite since it wasn't all that special and didn't match up to my mom's more complex version w/ potatoes.
Service was attentive and accommodating, and the same cadre of staff have been there during my last three visits. I can tell that this place has struck a chord w/ me because each visit makes me want to return even sooner than the last. The prices aren't low, but the quality, refinement, and attention to detail are apparent. Photos are linked below for your visual consumption. I hope my fellow hounds will chime in w/ their impressions...
PS. Thanks to Cynthia for bringing mochi from SJ Japantown to share! I sampled them when I returned home and preferred the soft round one to the more firm jellied square one (pictured in my photo report). Those treats were so smooth and refined w/ just a touch of sweetness!