Fantastic Banh Khot at Vietnam House in the Tenderloin [San Francisco]
- pane Feb 29, 2012 08:24 PM
Reading about the excellent banh cuon available at Tay Ho in Oakland made me want a plate of them closer to home. I researched online and found that there aren't too many Vietnamese restaurants that serve banh cuon in San Francisco, and the closest one to my place, Vietnam House in the Tenderloin, was new to me and had no reports here, so I dragged DaveMP there for lunch.
Warm rolls filled with minced wood ear mushrooms and pork, served alongside a big fritter filled with a single giant prawn (still in the shell) and coins of a TBD vegetable (Dave though taro or sweet potato). Slices of "Vietnamese ham" (which looks like a forcemeat, similar in flavor/texture to bologna) lined the plate. This was good but not amazing. I didn't ask if the rice noodle sheets were made in-house but I suspect not.
Stunning. Great crispy texture to the exterior, plump shrimp, a sprinkle of dried shrimp on top, and a notable amount of coconut creaminess. These are time consuming to make, from what I gather, so not too many restaurants serve them--I'm not even sure if they're on the menu at Lotus Garden or if she'll just do them as a special request when she has time. I'd rank Vietnam House's version as better than Lotus Garden and as good as or better than Yummy Yummy. What I like best about Vietnamese food is the interplay between elements: sweet and funky, warm and cool, crunchy and silky--and all of these are on display in a tiny, delicate egg custard cup.
Pho tai nam
Usually when I'm in this neighborhood for soup, it's the light, almost effervescent pho ga at Turtle Tower that I'm after, so the change of pace with a beef broth appealed. I liked this broth, which had a strong flavor of star anise playing against the sweet depth of beef meat and bone flavor. Noodles were decent, but not house-made.
Total for lunch was $24, and we definitely ordered too much (but ate it all anyhow).
642 Eddy Street (between Larkin and Polk
Very nice report, and a very nice lunch indeed.
I don't have too much to add, but here's my two cents:
I thought the restaurant was nice inside, and the bathroom was very nice and clean, and service seemed very friendly and attentive. Granted, there were only two other tables of customers during our meal.
Banh cuon was pretty good, but I felt the pork filling didn't have a lot of flavor. Texture of the rice noodles were soft and not too sticky, which I liked. The shrimp fritter thing was sort of random, but okay.
Banh khot were nice - strong on the coconut, and nice and tender. They looked like miniature shrimp cupcakes, and the shrimp were perfectly cooked. I still think I like the version at Yummy Yummy slightly more, but both are excellent. We wrapped them in lettuce, along with mint and pickled vegetables, and dipped them in the sweet vinegar sauce. Yummm. One negative thing about sharing this dish is that it comes with 7 banh khot, and 7 is a prime number....so it might cause fights. Luckily pane was generous and let me have 4.
The pho was good too - as pane wrote, strong star-anise flavor.
So yeah, all in all, a very promising first meal at this place, and I'd definitely return to try more items. Yet another great spot in the Tenderloin!
I tried the Yummy Yummy version of Banh Khot yesterday. No crispy exterior, they were pretty thick and tasted like they were somewhat undercooked. May have been a bad day in the kitchen as they were pretty packed at lunch. Some mint & lettuce provided for wrapping.
So far, my gold standard for Banh Khot in the area is the version at Vung Tau (San Jose, Newark, Fremont). Have you tried it there? They have a thinner layer of dough which is more cup-like (semi-hollow) and not a solid half-sphere of dough like at Y-Y. Crispy, like you describe the Vietnam House version. They also give a wider variety of greens on the side (lettuce, rau ram, basil, mint) than Y-Y
Pics are from V-T
I tried and liked Vung Tau very much. Sorry to hear Yummy Yummy disappointed--I used to visit more frequently when I lived closer, but always had good to great experiences. It's been maybe a year since I've been, but Dave has been more recently, I think, and had good things to say.
I think it's true that the banh khot at Yummy Yummy are on the soft side, but the version I had in January was crisper than you describe. I went at dinner on a Friday, if that makes a difference.
The banh khot at Vietnam House did come with a wider range of herbs, too. Definitely give it a try!