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Banh Khot and Banh Dap Bo @ Vung Tau 3 in Newark

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Tuesday's lunch was a visit to Vung Tau 3 in Newark. While I've been to Tamarine in Palo Alto, owned by G2, this was my first visit to the first generation's restaurants.

The place filled up quickly at the lunch hour and the two servers were whirling dervishes trying to keep up with 20+ tables including a couple groups. The food does come out quickly once ordered.

Luckily, I'd ordered two things to hedge my bets. The banh khot didn't do much for me here. The coconut custardy part was soft and sort of curdled, and I found it too sweet in the balance. These weren't very crusty or browned either.

I liked the bahn dap bo much more. Cam Huong in Oakland has a sandwich made with similar grilled beef rolled tightly around soft onions, and I'd wished I could try a freshly grilled version some day. Well, it was right here and the fresh char made it tastier yet. I liked the idea of the fresh rice sheet wrapped around the crispy black sesame studded rice cracker, however, the rice noodle sheet was on the stale side and too firm for my taste. The vegetable garnishes included some tasty pickled daikon and carrot crinkle-cut sticks, rau ram, mint, basil, bean sprouts, and leafy lettuce. It was hard to put the whole thing together, and in the end, I found I liked the beef rolls with just a bit of the fresh herbs then dunked in the nuoc cham.

The most dazzling part of this meal was the iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk. I'd heard it praised many times on the board, and now I know understand and can heap my own praise on that pile. The richness of the brew and its utter smoothness and near syrupy texture even as the ice melted were unlike any other I've ever had. I wanted another one even though I was freezing in the drafty dining room and only fears of insomnia kept me in check.

I'd heard many negative reports on VT3 in its opening months. The room is very nice, in keeping with the higher prices here, and I enjoyed the chance to order something different than the simpler noodle houses provide. From this lunch, I imagine that some but not all of the service issues have been worked out. And, while the food was better than I expected, I suspect that it still falls short of the original in San Jose since I'm not craving a return visit. I will, however, be visiting the VTs in San Jose and Milpitas to get another iced coffee.

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  1. Thanks for your report and photo, Melanie. While the dishes are recognizably similar to the ones we got from VT San Jose, I can see slight differences (which I would expect).

    I really enjoyed the banh dap dish. The noodle sheets from VT1 looked a bit thinner and more tender than your thicker version. I don't really care for the banh khot at VT1 either since it's too doughy and not very crisp.

    And yes, the ca phe sua da is excellent! Probably the best I've had in the states. Just the right strength and amount of condensed milk w/ a smooth and clean flavor. So rich, it's a meal in itself. I wonder what brand of coffee they use...

    4 Replies
    1. re: Carb Lover

      Yep, these sheet were thick and stale enough to be brittle. You can see how it cracked.

      I took the rest of the "onion beef" (that's what it's called on the menu) to my brother's for him to try. He was one of those who had warned me off VT3. He liked the beef rolls quite a bit too. The nuoc cham was too sweet and should have a bit more tartness to perk up the food.

      Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Thanks for the links, Melanie. VT1's nuoc cham is on the sweet side too, but I find it pretty balanced b/c it's fairly pungent. I like it b/c it's the closest I've had at a restaurant to my mom's. My brother has eaten at VT2 in Milpitas, and while he liked it, I don't think he was crazy about it. I need to try more of the homey bun and com plates at VT1 on my own since we tend to shy away from those at chowdowns as they are more difficult to share.

        1. re: Carb Lover

          Have you trime Com Tam Thanh for bun and com plates? They are my reference for this. On Story near Grand Century. For bun I do the shrimp on sugar cane with pork meatballs and an add on cha gio. For Com I get as much as I can being sure to get the shrimp mousse/cake in bean curd skin.

      2. re: Carb Lover

        Here's a little bit of information on the coffee.

        Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

      3. While waiting for my delectable sweet iced milk coffee at Vung Tau 3, I ordered tấm bì sườn chả: broken rice with a grilled pork chop and so-called meat pie. It was served with pickle-and-lettuce salad.

        Broken rice was delicate flavored and even in texture. I think of broken rice to most rice as couscous is to most pasta -- small and worthwhile.

        The meat pie is in fact a sort of noodle-and-pork omelet, not wholly unlike okonomiyaki but with rice noodles rather than cabbage. It is flavorful at Vung Tau 3, but the top is slightly tough.

        The salty, colorful pork chop was grilled quickly and still juicy. The marinade lent a pink cast to the outside, although the meat was cooked through to white. I would recommend it.

        Vung Tau 3 is in a mall at Mowry and Cedar in Newark, centered around a Lion Market. The mall includes the following food sources: a Sogo bakery; a pearl tea house with both tea snacks and a small dim sum list; a konjac specialist that also does bento lunches; a Hong Kong barbecue including poultry, pork, and cephalopods in the window -- suckling pig by special order and plate lunches on site; a Malaysian fusion restaurant that claims to be "hawker style" but has air conditioning and un-hawker-style prices; a ramen bar in the Chinese mode; a Korean tofu- and barbecue restaurant; a Hong Kong-style English tea house with western food; Huong Lan #5, , with phở and good sandwiches; and, regrettably, Jacques dans la Boîte.

        In short, even if Vung Tau 3 is not worth much of a trip, it is surrounded by diverse, edible food. And you might need to shop at the Lion Market, anyway.

        3 Replies
        1. re: David Sloo

          That center (including the other shops on the same parking lot that loop down the block) is pearl tea central --- I think there are something like 6 different tea drink specialists there. Also a TK Noodle. The HK barbecue place is fair, I think it's called New China Station. The roast duck was succulent but had little seasoning or flavor. The ramen spot is very Chinese-y and average at best, haven't tried the teppanyaki side. I like the sandwiches at Huang Lan, but have been warned to avoid the pho. Ninji Hot Pot is probably the pick of the litter in that center. Red Kwali has been panned here of late. The dessert house is quite good and well-priced. I didn't make it to the bento box place - any recs?

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Talk about value for money.

            I had a #1, thit nguoi, at Huong Lan #5 in the Lion Market center at Mowry and Cedar in Newark.

            It's an excellent sandwich containing pate, ham, and headcheese, with onions, a little chilli paste, and some greens. It is made to order (wait was 3 min on Thursday at 2 pm). The small, sweet baguette would do credit to any sandwich monger in Montmartre or Hue. This is no mediocre blandwich.

            This sandwich was fit for an earl. It costs $1.75. If you eat in, you get soup for an extra four bits. Some of the sandwiches, like sardines, reach the staggering price of $2.

            1. re: David Sloo

              At one time I harbored ambitions of trying every combination there, but I'll have to leave that work to you now, David. Good type about hte soup, didn't know that. I've also had the fresh rolls (with prawns) and have tried a couple desserts. You can get better tapioca drinks at the other concessions in the center.

              Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...