Had a great time at Vientian (Vientiane) Cafe [Oakland]
While visiting Berkeley (up from LA), we stopped by for a little adventure at Vientiane Cafe in Oakland. You folks have got a real gem here.
Sai Ooa (baked Laotian sausage): These were really tasty. About the size of a bratwurst, the skins were crispy and the insides moist with little chunks of meaty this-and-that. Others have mentioned that they were too dry; I suppose it depends on when you go and how long they were left in the fryer.
Nam Kao (crunchy pork/rice/green onion pilaf): Again, yummy. The texture was great too, with soft rice, juicy pork, and crunchy...rice, I guess. Somebody mentioned that these are supposed to be rice balls; perhaps the balls were broken apart after they came out of the fryer. I think the lettuce and mint basket was meant to be eaten with the nam kao, but I mostly ate it with the sausage instead. Which I recommend.
Duck Salad, which isn't on the take-out menu I swiped on the way out, so I can't tell you exactly what it's called. But it's on the regular in-restaurant menu. Duck, red onion, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, spicy dressing like you'd get on a Thai papaya salad. Worth ordering again.
Gaeng Nor Mai, which is bamboo shoots, some kind of mushroom, and the tiniest bit of winter squash and a small chunk or two of meaty bone in a brownish fish-sauce flavor sauce/soup. It wasn't on the menu, but was recommended by a fellow hound, and the waitress had no problem delivering it up. I enjoyed it, and I think my dining companions enjoyed tasting it, but I probably wouldn't order it every time I went.
Lao BBQ pork spare ribs: our one "miss" of the night, these were just pork spareribs, rubbed with spices and grilled. While one can never go wrong with pork fat, I don't feel like the spice preparation added much to the dish. Which isn't to say that they were bad, but I wouldn't order them again or recommend them to someone visiting to try them out. If you need meat, get more sausage instead. (On the other hand, they were extremely accessible, so if Mom says you have to bring along your cousin Marty who always orders egg foo young, you can get this to give him something to eat.)
Of course, we got sticky rice as well. And mango with sticky rice for afterwards, which was sort of an afterthought, but very well executed.
Some obviously non-Lao customers came in around the time we were finishing up, and one of us thought she heard them asking for "the Lao menu". Interesting. As we left, these gentlemen were served an enormous bowl of very green soup. I asked the waitress if they had a Lao menu, but she said no. Interesting.
It appears you can buy the sausages frozen. If I weren't spending the next day on the train, I would have taken home a dozen.
So, yeah, we had a great time. Food for 4 or perhaps 5 (there were 3 of us; we were very full), no alcohol, $50.
3801 Allendale Ave, Oakland, CA 94619
Gaeng Nor Mai and Nam Khao photos attached.
I was kinda hungry, so I didn't get around to taking pictures until they were half gone...
Just want to chime in that a few of us finally made it here the other night and it was fantastic. Thanks to all the prior posters who helped us prep a list of things to try.
My faves were:
-Nam Kao (loved that crunchy roasted rice flavor and texture)
-Spare Ribs (fantastic marinade with ginger and perhaps lemon grass, perfectly cooked)
-Papaya Salad (a very different preparation, and very flavorful)
-Pickles (lottsa sliced fresh garlic and ginger)
Will be back there again soon.
I've been there twice in the daytime and both times we ordered off of the Lao menu. It was the back page of the menu and was titled as such. it's so funny that they would say they don't have one! I agree about the ribs on the main menu, not a special taste. The crunchy rice dish is awesome. But pretty much anything on the Lao menu is wonderful (fish paste, steamed bamboo, just order blindly). If you spy stuff on the counter packaged to go, it's worth asking about it. Last time we had dessert made by their grandma (sticky sweet rice balls stuffed with pork eaten with lettuce wrap). The frozen sausage to go is $6 for a big one and has nice chewy bits in it--ears?
Visited today for lunch and had the Khao Poon with fish. They use tilapia, and there were very small chunks scattered throughout the soup—no big pieces. Lots of bamboo shoot and bean sprout and some pork blood (you can order it without this), in a slightly spicy coconut broth with round rice noodles. This soup was really good. I'm unfamiliar with khao poon, but this version reminded me of laksa. Generous serving for $7.95
This was my first ever visit to Vientian Cafe and I definitely plan to be back.
I eat at Vientian often.
Chicken or shrimp Green curry is outstanding!
Pork Ribs are great and a super value.
Sausage appetizer is a must.
Rice ball salad is a little better at Vientian...
But I like the salad greens used for wraps better at Champa Gardens.
Champa Gardens has good cheap Lao beer too.
Both are great!