Another Vung Tau (San Jose) Chowdown report
- Alice Patis
Seven hounds met at the original but very nicely remodeled Vung Tau for yet another chowdown. We ordered 8 dishes, listed below. I'll let others chime in before I post my review, but I thought everything was good to excellent, except for one miss. I think the service is indeed greatly improved since before the remodel. Plus the dirty 70s diner look is completely gone; it really does look as nice as the photos on their website(www.vungtaurestaurant.com).
What we had:
08. Hû Tieu (Noodle Soup) Bà Nam Sadéc - Jumbo prawns, crab & lean pork loin $7.50 - served with a shrimp fritter
15. Cháo Cá Giò Heo - Rice porridge soup w/ pork hock & fish $7.50
72. GÕi Cá SÓng - Lime cured red snapper mixed w/ banana blossom, celery & onions $11.95
33. Bánh HÕi Chåo Tôm - Steamed rice vermicelli w/ ground prawns skewered on sugar cane sticks & grilled. Served w/ mixed vegetables. $11.95
107. Cua Rang Me - Crab wok tossed w/ tamarind, garlic & onions. $23.95
37. Bánh Dap (Tôm, Heo, Bò) - Rice flour rolled filled w/ grilled pork, beef or Jumbo prawns. Served w/ mixed vegetables $10.50
That's what it's called and described on the menu. But what we ate was a dish with 2 components: the rice flour "crepes" with a thin filling of sesame rice crackers; and since we chose beef, piled on top were grilled beef rolls (slices of beef round, wrapped around julienned onions and grilled, which is #106 on the menu).
84. Suon Rim Man - Short ribs caramelized w/ garlic, fish sauce & black pepper served in an earth pot $9.50
(actually it was served on a nice white plate, not a clay pot
117. Muc Rang MuÓi - Calamari breaded w/ rice flour & wok tossed w/ garlic, salt & onions $10.50 (similar to "Salt and Pepper Squid" and it was pieces from calamari steaks, not rings)
Hopefully Carb Lover will post the photos soon.
I am soooo glad I got to meet new hounds and see familiar faces. Plus the donuts Nathan and Carb Lover offered afterwards were a heavenly treat! The food was great but the company even nicer!
Thanks for getting the report rolling, Alice, and for typing up the proper Vietnamese names for dishes we enjoyed. I had such a wonderful time w/ our lunch group, and the food continues to delight and surprise. I always leave there full and happy, and a few dishes were truly unique and outstanding! I haven't gotten bored yet, and as Cynthia expressed, I'm starting to really feel at home there.
I'm sorry that I don't have the time or mindset to share more detailed thoughts right now (am exhausted and about to turn in for the night), but I wanted to check in and at least post photos to bring the meal to life and color. My photos didn't turn out as well as I would have liked, but my excuse is that the food was a MAJOR distraction! I had to brighten many shots, so the color of the food may look a bit unnatural. I will weigh in w/ my impressions when I get the first chance! Hope others will too...
A minor correction: below is the link to our last lunch in October.
I was lucky enough to be at this particular chowdown. There really is nothing like sitting down to a meal a few good people with open minds, healthy appetites, and appreciative palates.
I started with the intense flavors of the lime-cured fish salad, Goi Ca Song (#72): crunchy fresh veggies with herbs and jalapeno slices in a sweet-citrus-fish sauce dressing. The "snapper" was very fresh, but poorly sliced, leaving it oddly tough and stringy. Good, but the lotus root salad from an earlier visit was better, I think.
The soup, Hu Tieu (#8) had excellent flavor, rich broth and good noodles, although it was lukewarm by the time we got around to it. (The perils of good conversation.) I would certainly order this again. (And not share it.)
Rice porridge, Chao Ca Gio Heo (#15) looked tempting, but was quite bland, despite the wealth of ingredients floating around.
Banh Hoi Chao Tom, (#33), the minced shrimp on sugarcane was of good quality and nice texture, but it paled, flavorwise, in comparison with most of the other dishes.
The grilled beef rolls with filled rice flour crepes Banh Dap Bo (#37), were rather difficult to roll up in lettuce leaves with the accompanying herbs and dipping sauce, but they rewarded my effort with a complexity of flavors and variety of textures found in few dishes. I'd order this again, too, though I'd be equally tempted by the lemongrass beef with banh hoi.
The deep-fried breaded calamari cutlets, Muc Rang Moi (#117), dusted with garlic, salt, pepper, sugar, and chili, had just the right amount of resistance to the bite, and a lot of intriguing flavors.
Suon Rim Man (#84), was one of those dishes that missed its potential greatness. If the rib chunks had been cooked longer, they would have been tender and the sauce would have had a chance for thicken and caramelize further.
The tamarind crab, Cua Rang Me (#107) was eaten last, by some tacit agreement, or chowhound mind-meld. I guess we wanted to wait until we had tasted everything else before getting up to our elbows in crab debris. Which we did with gusto. Delicious preparation: subtly smoky, sweet-sour, and garlicky, the sauce enhanced the sweetness of the crab. This crab inspired thoughts of organizing a Bay Area Crab Hunt. . .
A wonderful lunch enjoyed in great company! The next one can't come too soon. Thank you very much to Carb Lover and Alice for organizing and ordering!
This was my favorite lunch so far at Vung Tau. Alice and Pia's descriptions of the dishes are right on and it would be redundant for me to add much other than to say just how much I enjoyed everything and everyone! If I had to pick a favorite from today's lineup, the crab would be #1. The rankings for me would continue with the beef rolls/rice noodle #2, the calamari #3, the noodle soup #4 (I'd like to have a whole bowl of that one day soon...), the fish salad #5 (only because the pieces of fish were strangely tough; but the wonderful fresh flavors were outstanding), #6 the shrimp on fresh sugar cane; the shrimp was bland but the pieces of sugar cane were so juicy and flavorful, the porridge did seem very bland even though there was an ample amount of black pepper; probably if we didn't have other highly flavored dishes it would have been better and last place went to the pork short ribs (I was expecting beef) - these as mentioned by Pia (I think) would have been better if they'd had a longer cooking time and the juices would have cooked down more. All in all, a great meal and great company! Thanks again to Tran for keeping our little lunch group going.
I think the food has been well described in the first few posts.
The crab was clearly the star, good prep, well executed and of course it was crab! The fish was chewy but the rest of the salad was good- perhaps the cured beef salad would be better since the beef flavor might stand out a bit more against the rest of the ingredients. Still the salads are a strong point here. I also liked the beef rolls with rice noodle and cracker. Good flavors and an interesting range of textures.
I enjoyed the soup (though these items are a bit tough to share). The meat topping seemed fairly generous but the fritter was only ok. I liked the version of this soup at Cao Nguyen better. And the shrimp on sugar cane were very pretty but just did not stand out among the other dishes. My current fave of this dish is the bun with shrimp on cane + pork meatballs at Com Tam Thanh. Its been a while so I need to get back for a retry since I recall the dish having a more pronounced flavor while also having a more tender texture and juicier cane.
Still a good event and Vung Tau has consistently delivered good to excellent food over our 3 visits.
These Vung Tau chowdowns are relished with great gusto - and we are rewarded with good company, good food - and, now...donuts. Thank you to Carb Lover and Nathan for their superb shopping skills - and, donuts from Lou's Living Donut Museum with the "seasonal favorite - the pumpkin donut" - Yum! Thank you!
The salads at Vung Tau always hit the mark for me, with balanced flavors and crisp textures. The Tamarind Crab was amazing - with the spicy sweetness seeping into the meatiness of the crab. #37 did not disappoint the lettuce-wrapped goodness of the beef rolls and noodles was burrito-sized with all the fresh condiment additions. Overall, this was a very happy tasting of Vung Tau's menu.