Ana Mandara or Bong Su?
I attended a nice birthday celebration at Bong Su last Friday night. It seemed like many others were doing the same. The food there is delicious, but some of the portions are small so if you are eating family style it could rack up the bill. We had the glass noodles with scallops, the appetizer platter, eggplant. shaking beef, garlic rice, vegetable and tofu curry. The only dish that was a bomb was the eggplant. Everyone loved the banana fritters and I would skip the chocolate malt mousse unless you like that sour malty taste. It is one of the few places that is quiet enough that you can have a decent conversation. I haven't been to Ana Mandara in ages, but Bong Su defintely has a warmer atmosphere and is more elegant.
Ana Mandara is more dramatic in terms of decor, with their curving staircase in the middle of the dining room. I think their food is also more interesting. If it is a date, I would definitely say Ana Mandara. If it is family, I think it depends, though we typically go to the Ghiradelli store after Ana Mandara for a sundae, which is a fun family thing to do.
Just had dinner at Bong Su on Saturday, and enjoyed it thoroughly. My brother and I shared the appetizer sampler plate for two which included duck wrapped in mustard greens with cucumber and mango, tea leaf wrapped beef (tasted the same as beef in La Lot leaves, is La Lot Vietnamese for tea leaf?) taro spring rolls and green papaya salad. Delicious, especially the taro spring rolls and the beef rolls.
We then shared the Cam Dep prawns, the lemongrass bass, and the kaffir long beans. Really each one was full of flavor and intriguing in its own way—the prawns because of the texture of the green compressed rice coating which is really crunchy after frying and retains it under the sauce, the bass because all the flavors of a Vietnamese fish curry were hauntingly there in the rub which was pan seared and buttery (perfectly cooked the way I like fish—just under fully cooked). The beans were fun because of the Kaffir lime flavor—leaf or rind, I wasn't sure, but it added a dimension to a standard vegetable preparation that I really enjoyed. That and the thinness of the longbeans themselves, which makes them so much more tasty than the older, fatter ones. (Like the difference between French filet beans and full grown Blue Lakes).
I loved my pistachio financier with Asian pear and pistachio gelato, and my brother really enjoyed his chocolate trio—a little chocolate port tart, a melting veloute, and chocolate rice krispies.
I've read some report which dissed the food here. I eat regularly at ordinary Vietnamese places, and was happy to experience this style—not knowing how much is just creative playing with the flavors or if there is something here that you'd find at a high end traditional place. It was a great meal, and the atmosphere is very stylish.