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Feb 23, 2010 11:22 PM

North Vietnamese at Quan Bac in SF?

Each time I've headed out Geary the last few months, I've watched for progress on the French-Vietnamese restaurant whose banner promises "coming soon". When "Fig Newton" and I hauled out to the chowdown at Hakka Restaurant on Friday, she noticed that it looked open but we didn't have time to stop.

SF Weekly and Tasting Table have some info about Quan Bac ("North Eatery"). I'm wondering whether chowhounds have any first mouth reports on the North Viet cooking here to share.

Quan Bac
4112 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118

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  1. I visited Quan Bac last night and would return. The decor is more upscale than La Vie, as an example. We had tofu salad- light and refreshing, nice balance of flavors that all came through. Vietnamese Carpaccio - it wasn't til we left the restaurant that we commented on the startling red color of the meat. Lots of toasted shallots and fish sauce based dipping sauce with that. Main course was a hit - sizzling Hanoi fish fillets with caramelized scallions, onion, dill accompanied by cold vermicelli noodles, mint, cilantro, redleaf lettuce, pickled carrots and daikon for wrapping. This was delicious. Bill with 2 non-alcoholic beverages was $36. Service was attentive. Definitely worth a trip.

    6 Replies
    1. re: saffrongold

      Oooh, the sizzling fish with dill is one of my favorite things! I think it's called bun cha ca hanoi, or something close to that. Will have to get over there soon. How big a place is it? Any large tables for a group of 8 or 10? Thanks much!

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Melanie there is a sweet little private room that would accomodate a party that size, I'd say up to 14 people. (Sounds like you are planning a Chowdown... ) There is seating in the bar, and the wall that serves as a barrier between the bar and the main dining room is made up of two enormous fishtanks. Seating for a dozen or so at the bar, the private room and then the dining room probably seats 40.

        1. re: saffrongold

          Thanks for painting such an accurate mental picture for me. And, one can even host a performance on the small stage! The private room off the bar has two round tables, each seating 8.

        2. re: Melanie Wong

          I had the sizzling fish as well, very nice. It's called Cha Ca Lang Vong on the menu. We also had a recommended appetizer of "shrimp on sugarcane", sort of like a shrimp sausage fried on sugarcane sticks. This was also accompanied with the noodles, lettuce, and herbs.

          Portions are large, and the Pho Ga broth was very nice and light. I liked it better than Turtle Tower's.

          No wine or beer yet, and they didn't have a salty lemonade soda, just a sweet one. They do have a salty plum soda though.

          1. re: DezzerSF

            I am crazy for the salty plum soda, but they were out the evening I was there. The drink I had was red bean and coconut milk. It was very tasty, but too filling with the meal. I will try the shrimp on a sugarcane next time, I often order it. Thank you for providing the name of the sizzling fish.

            1. re: DezzerSF

              Forgot to mention that the housemade hot sauce is very nice, slight sweetness up front, then a good amount of heat from the minced chilis, and chili oil.

              Also, the garlic noodles tasted mostly like Chinese chow mein than anything. It's served with a generous portion of pork chops though.

        3. The bun rieu was pretty good for a restaurant, although I prefer the Southern style with water spinach and tofu rather than garnished with shredded cabbage. I liked that the meatballs were very light (almost fluffy) with no dried shrimp filler (which is a common substitute). There weren't any solid chunks of tomato, but the stock was briny with a nice tomatoey tang.

          Menu is very big (144 items, not including drinks and dessert), which is worrisome. However, menu is loaded with interesting items not common in SF, such as pho with ngau pin (or bull's penis), bun oc (snail noodle soup), grilled chopped snail, mussels fried with fragrant kotweed (?), crabmeat fried red rice, and a selection of stews with bread on the side.

          4 Replies
          1. re: sfbing

            Which other places in the area serve bun rieu bowls that you've liked? The only one I've tried was Pho Garden's, which was pretty heavy on the shrimp paste, but tasty enough for me to want to explore more versions of this dish.

            1. re: bigwheel042

              Yummy yummy makes a Southern Vietnamese version. It has fried tofu, slices of cha lua (that pork paste seasoned with fish sauce and cooked in a banana leaf) and fried shallots. No water spinach. The times I've gotten it, it has been a huge bowl probably because no one else is ordering it. I would give the edge to Quan Bac's broth though, which is a little tarter.

              There is a stall in Grand Century's food court in San Jose that does a decent job. Find the people eating bun rieu and ask them where they got it.

              To tell the truth, I haven't tried a lot of bun rieu in restaurants because most everyone makes it with the same bottles of primordial crab sludge diluted with stock and call it a day. It is convenient though, whereas the bun rieu I make at home (with several dungeness and a ton of tomatoes) is a huge hassle.

              1. re: sfbing

                I recently tried the bun rieu at My Canh on Broadway - I can't compare to the other two versions described, but I thought it was quite flavorful. As a warning, there are cubes of congealed blood in their version and it was served with bean sprouts, shrimp paste, chili paste and basil on the side.

                My Canh
                626 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

            2. re: sfbing

              Yes, huge menu. I also saw an "oyster pancake", which I was curious about.

            3. I thought I’d wait until I could get a group together, but when DezzerSF said “oyster pancake”, I needed to be there sooner rather than later. On Monday I dragged my mother there for lunch after her doctor’s appointment.

              I’d meant to order the same #100 Cha Ca Lang Vong, $10.95, that the others have reported on. But instead I got mixed up and picked #62 instead from the Bun section of the menu. A beneficial error as it turned out, as this was a huge portion with a pile of turmeric-stained fish filets resting on top of the pile. This alone would have been plenty for the two of us to split for lunch. My mother commented that she would enjoy this in the summer. The nuoc cham was fairly bland. Often I find it too sweet. This was not too sugary, but it wasn’t that salty or sour either, just kind of watery. However this dish had so much going on, the nuoc cham didn’t make or break it.

              Bun cha ca lang vong, $7.50 - Hanoi style BBQ fish filets with rice noodle vermicelli, bean sprouts, lettuce, mint, cilantro, pickled carrots and daikon, fresh dill, carmelized onions, peanuts, fried shallots, scallions.

              The oyster pancake turned out to be sizeable as well. The very fresh and tender oysters were left whole. The omelet part, embedded with sections of scallion and cilantro as well, was a bit soft with no crispy browned parts and consequently some of the oysters were barely cooked. This dish was underseasoned, but easily remedied with a couple shakes of fish sauce. We also liked it with some of the chili paste. Unlike the Teochew style, this had no chewy, starchy component.

              Vietnamese oyster pancake, $8.95, with at least six, maybe eight, plump and juicy whole oysters.

              For “chowfun_derek”, I’ll mention that pho ga long me trung non is on the menu, translated as “chicken meat and intestine noodle soup”, if he’s still on the hunt for “unborn eggs”. And for “susancinsf”, I spotted three or four orders of huge, well-browned banh xeo pass by, seemed to be a popular order.

              Quan Bac slideshow

              Quan Bac
              4112 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118

              7 Replies
              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Great info Melanie. I am going to the City in April and think I will plan a stop

                1. re: mkleinbart64

                  Note that it's currently "cash only" with signs stating such posted in the front windows.

                  Also wanted to give a shout out to Scott Hocker at Tasting Table and Jonathan Kauffman at SF Weekly for their pieces. It's wonderful to have chowhoundish food writers on the San Francisco beat again.

                2. re: Melanie Wong

                  Thanks for the report Melanie. I agree with you on the nuoc cham, not too sweet but also not sour or salty.

                  I think I might go back soon for the pho ga with intestines. My friend had the soup with the five spice chicken. The chicken was fine, but PPQ is still my favorite with regards to the chicken itself.

                  1. re: DezzerSF

                    DezzerSF - is that the PPQ Pho restaurant on Irving between 19th and 20th Avenue? One of my favorite spots for a great bowl of Pho!

                    1. re: Burt

                      Yes, but I mainly like the five spice chicken there.

                  2. re: Melanie Wong

                    We had dinner at Quan Bac last night. It's a lovely restaurant, with clean lines and well-spaced tables, my only quibble is that the chairs have cushions on the seats that are not secured in any way, making it difficult to gracefully slide one's chair in and out without losing the cushion completely.

                    There is a bar and some tables in the front room. I'm glad we weren't seated there as there are something like five flat-screen TVs over the bar all playing the same program.

                    The bar and the back room are separated by a wall that encloses a fish tank that is nearly as long as the entire bar and probably four feet high, housing decorative fish, rather than the kind you might eat for dinner.

                    We were seated in the back room, which has its own three flat-screen TVs all playing the same program, a Vietnamese cooking show that night.

                    We ordered:
                    8) Bun Rieu
                    107) Oyster Pancake
                    44) Hanoi-style crispy noodles (with beef)
                    123) Sizzling Vietnamese short ribs

                    The bun rieu made us very happy. The broth was flavorful, sour, and tangy, with just a touch of chili heat. It had the light and fluffy meatballs that sfbing refers to above. Clearly some changes have been made in the kitchen, though, as there was no cabbage and lots of chunks of fresh tomato in the soup. Very different from other (Southern-style) versions of bun rieu that I've had, and I think perhaps better.

                    The oyster pancake, which I had been looking forward to after having seen Melanie's picture of it, was quite disappointing. There was not a single oyster in it. They may have been chopped up, but I couldn't discern much of any detectable oyster flavor. The flavor (mainly green onion and cilantro) was good, but texture was kind of squishy, which turned people off. We did at long last find a small piece of something that might have been oyster, but looked and tasted a whole lot more like clam to me. Sigh.

                    The crispy noodles dish was delicious. The crispy noodles were wide, flat noodles that had been cooked into a flat cake in a pan, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. This was served with an enormous bowl of tasty vegetables (onions, carrots, cabbage, and bean sprouts) and tender beef with a nice sauce.

                    The sizzling short ribs were fantastic. Presented on a sizzle platter atop onions, carrots, cabbage, and sauce, the ribs were meaty and flavorful. My favorite thing, though, was to annoint the vegetables with the sauce--a little sweet, a little savory--and then enjoy them.

                    Total (including 4 non-alcoholic drinks) before tax and tip was around $42.00.

                    Quan Bac
                    4112 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118

                    1. re: Euonymous

                      Euonymus, a big, belated thanks for your recommendation. I ordered the Hanoi style crispy noodles with beef. It is now #82. Unique! The crispy exterior and chewy interior are texture delight. Reminds me of mochi. The bowl of veggies and beef came in a broth. I thought this part was unexceptional, though nice to dip the noodles in (briefly, though, to retain their crispy, chewy nature).

                      The separate back room is beautiful and the bathrooms very aesthetic as well. the back room would be a lovely place for a private party.

                      I always enjoy Quan Bac because in addition to the excellent food, you get seated immediately, you can hear conversations, service is attentive, and tables are spaced out appropriately. It quietly excels.

                  3. Three of us had lunch at Quan Bac on Monday, and while everything was good it did not live up to the high expectations I had from the very positive reviews of other hounds.

                    We had (menu numbers have changed since prior posts)—

                    23. Crab Meat & Tomato Rice Noodle Soup (Bun Rieu)
                    98. Ha Noi Style Sizzling Platter Fish (Cha Ca Lang Vong)
                    104. Vietnamese Oyster Pancake (Hao Tuoi Chien Trung)
                    118. Vietnamese Sizzling Short Ribs (Suon Bo Nuong Vi)

                    The bun rieu was pretty good, but maybe a little bland until I added some of the excellent homemade spicy hot sauce provided at each table. Unlike sfbing we got some solid chunks of tomato.

                    The much-praised sizzling fish platter (served still cooking on a hot metal platter) was also good, but nothing special. I’m not sure what the fish was but it wasn’t especially flavorful and didn’t add interesting texture. I had expected it might be crispy given the “sizzling” description but it wasn’t. Unlike saffrongold’s experience, there was no caramelization of the onions—some weren’t even fully softened. The platter was not thick and hot enough to continue the cooking much. On the plus side, the pickled carrots, daikon and cabbage were all very good. We only got one medium sized leaf of lettuce each (3 total) to wrap the goodies in. The sauce that came with it was pretty underwhelming.

                    The oyster pancake was chock full of whole oysters and dill. It wasn’t very crispy but that might have been necessary to avoid overcooking the oysters. The oysters were juicy, tasty and perfectly cooked. I enjoyed the oysters but the overall flavor wasn’t anything special.

                    I thought the sizzling short ribs were quite good. Fairly standard stuff but well executed.

                    Our server was very attentive and friendly. The chair backs were uncomfortably vertical and the seat cushion slid around annoyingly when I sat down or moved.

                    All in all it was a good meal but well below the level of recent meals at Bodega Bistro, Kim Thanh, and Vung Tau. At $15 per person before tip (including two non-alcoholic drinks) it was very reasonably priced.

                    Bodega Bistro
                    607 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                    Vung Tau Restaurant
                    535 E Santa Clara St, San Jose, CA 95112

                    Kim Thanh
                    607 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                    Quan Bac
                    4112 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118