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Vietnam House Chowdown Report [San Francisco]

Eleven of us gathered for a group dinner on April 9th. This is the reporting thread for what we ate and what we thought of what we ate.

We had a dedicated scribe (thank you!) who will list the dishes we consumed, and then each diner will report in with their impressions of the must-have dishes as well as the ones to skip.

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  1. Nice Chowdown at Vietnam House tonight. Here is what I believe we ordered. Descriptions are from the menu at

    http://sanfrancisco.menupages.com/res...

    6. Goi Du Du Kho Bo shredded green papaya served with dried beef, basil, & special sauce dressing

    16. Com Thit Nuong, Bi, Cha grilled pork, shredded seasoned pork, egg meat pie served with broken rice

    22. Com Ga Xao Xa Ot chicken caramelized in garlic, lemongrass, & chili served with steamed rice

    29. Bun Rieu noodle soup with crab paste, tomato & tofu

    1. Goi Cuon shrimp, pork, mint & lettuce soft rolls

    4. Banh Khot crisp rice flour cupcakes with shrimp served with mixed greens

    8. Banh Cuon Cha Lua rice flour rolls filled with ground pork, wood ear mushroom, served with vietnamese ham, bean sprouts, mints, & dipping sauce

    28. Bun Bo Hue spicy noodle soup served with chili & lemongrass.

    32. Banh Canh Cua thick noodle soup with crab meat, shrimp, boiled pork

    40. Bun Cha Ha Noi grilled pork & skewered pork mix with dipping sauce. served w/ mix vegetables

    2 Replies
    1. re: Thomas Nash

      Perfect chowdown (and many thanks to Pane and Windy for organizing and guiding selections from a huge menu) and to recording secretary Thomas): opportunity to order many dishes; everyone gets a good-sized taste of each and opportunity to order more of the favorites (in this case, we ordered more of the 4#. Banh Khot and #6. green papaya salad); major topic of conversation is the great meals we've had, the wonderful meal we were then having, and detailed anticipation of planned future meals.

      My favorites were: #6 papaya salad: beautiful shreds of papaya and savory bits of dried beef (sounds strange but so good) in a sweet/funky (in a good way, of course) sauce. I would have liked a bit of heat or more umami-type flavors in this one, but of course that would have made it a different dish. #32 Noodle soup with crab, shrimp, pork. I didn't get any discernible pieces of crab, shrimp or pork in my serving, but the broth and noodles had a rich, complex flavor. #4 Banh khot was an unusual treat, meant to be wrapped in lettuce leaf with cilantro and other greens and drizzled with sauce, but flavors were quite subtle and I realized I probably overdid it with the greens in a feeble effort to take care of my vegetable course for the evening.

      Least interesting to me were the #1 fresh shrimp rolls--skimpy on the pork and shrimp and better done at many take-out places, #16 the "egg meat pie" component of the dish had a quiche-like texture (not necessarily a bad thing but portending blandness) and little flavor.

      1. re: dordogne

        For those who would like to try the intense Lao papaya salad, the Lao New Year Festival at UN Plaza/Civic Center in SF will be on Saturday April 28, 10-5. Many vendors with papaya salad as well as a papaya salad competition. Website:
        http://www.laonewyear.com/

    2. Thanks to Pane and Windy for organizing. We will definitely come back to this place as there were several dishes that got my attention. It was sometimes difficult to be quite sure what one was eating as there were numerous dishes and the the Vietnamese names all seemed to run together. So, I hope I have the right dishes in my comments that follow:

      Winners:

      The star of the evening, and one motivator for the Chowdown was
      4. Banh Khot crisp rice flour cupcakes with shrimp served with mixed greens
      We ordered a second round. This is a surprising and sophisticated dish with a coconut undertone. As with much Vietnamese food one wraps the little cups in lettuce adding basil,mint, etc. At the end, I cheated and just put a little basil and mint on top and was even more impressed.

      Mostly we were ordering dishes not seen elsewhere, but went for the papaya salad nonetheless. It was really outstanding, quite sweet, complex, and not very spicy. Really quite tame compared to the killer Laotian versions. Much less, if any, shrimp paste. I like both versions. This is far more accessible.
      6. Goi Du Du Kho Bo shredded green papaya served with dried beef, basil, & special sauce dressing

      A definitely will-have-again-dish:
      8. Banh Cuon Cha Lua rice flour rolls filled with ground pork, wood ear mushroom, served with vietnamese ham, bean sprouts, mints, & dipping sauce

      Easy to like and a favorite:
      40. Bun Cha Ha Noi grilled pork & skewered pork mix with dipping sauce. served w/ mix vegetables

      Best soup:
      28. Bun Bo Hue spicy noodle soup served with chili & lemongrass.
      Complex flavors, very interesting.

      Losers:

      OK, but with all those other delicious items, the chicken was, for me, forgettable:
      22. Com Ga Xao Xa Ot chicken caramelized in garlic, lemongrass, & chili served with steamed rice

      1. Goi Cuon shrimp, pork, mint & lettuce soft roll
      Meh...

      16. Com Thit Nuong, Bi, Cha grilled pork, shredded seasoned pork, egg meat pie served with broken rice

      32. Banh Canh Cua thick noodle soup with crab meat, shrimp, boiled pork
      We had two soups. This one did not do it for me although I anticipated it would when I saw its nice reddish color. Just no depth.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Thomas Nash

        I had never noticed Vietnam House before, so was glad to hear of it, and have the opportunity to sample a lot of the menu with fellow chowhounds. I'll be back for the banh khot and papaya salad. In fact, I might just order solely appetizers, as they were my favorites, (with the exception of the bland goi cuon) and I'm curious about the banh cu cai chien trung (daikon cake, of which I haven't had a Vietnamese version). I also enjoyed the banh cuon cha lua--this was new to me and liked the earthy rolls, but I may have actually enjoyed the small bit of the shrimp fritter I managed to chip off quite a bit. Does anyone know what it was made of? My guess is chickpea or yellow pea.
        The rest was okay, but I've had better versions of those dishes elsewhere. I found the bun bo Hue to be especially disappointing, though that could have been due to getting an odd portion with little broth, but the broth didn't have much flavor at all. Sure, it had noticeable lemongrass and sour components, but not much shrimp paste funk, beefiness, or heat (until I added the hot chili condiment the waiter brought to the table.) Still satisfying as a soup, but not so much as bun bo Hue to me.

         
         
         
        1. re: Thomas Nash

          Banh Canh Cua, if done correctly, tasted absolutely heavenly!! I first had that in one of Paris' Chinatowns and the taste haunted me for years afterwards, until I found it again in Saigon a few years later, where the version at Ben Thanh market actually tasted even better :-)

        2. Sounds great! I can't wait to hear what your fellow Chowhounders thought of this meal...share with us .....where exactly is this restaurant?

          2 Replies
          1. re: ChowFun_derek

            Vietnam House
            642 Eddy St
            Between Larkin and Polk
            San Francisco

            1. re: ChowFun_derek

              opens early at 10 am. nice for a breakfast of banh khot and cafe sua da -
              it's just around the corner from Brenda's French Soul Food.

            2. Thanks to pane and Windy for discovering Vietnam House and organizing our meal! We had a very tasty and satisfying meal but there were a few misses for me.

              The Goi Cuan (shrimp/pork/mint roll) was unexciting. The ingredients in the roll didn’t stand out and the peanut dipping sauce was very plain.

              The banh appetizers came with most of the same greens served elsewhere—lettuce for wrapping, mint, cilantro and rau ram (Vietnamese coriander) but unlike Bodega Bistro and Vung Tau there was no perilla. The Bhan Khot (rice cupcakes with shrimp for wrapping in greens) was very good, though the cakes weren’t as crispy and the dipping sauce not as tangy as at Vung Tau. The Bahn Cuon Cha Lua (pork/wood ear mushroom roll) was tasty but the sides varied—the Vietnamese “ham” was not so interesting but the fried prawn fritter was all crispy goodness.

              I really enjoyed the Goi Du Du Kho Bo (green papaya salad). The tangy sauce was great and the textures were interesting. I definitely prefer the Vietnamese style papaya salad to the Thai style.

              I enjoyed the Com Ga Xao Xa Ot (caramelized chicken) though it was not as complex as most of the other dishes.

              The broth of the Bahn Cahn Cua (crab/shrimp/pork soup) was plain and uninteresting. My bowl had no pieces of other ingredients besides noodles so I didn’t get a representative sample.

              One my favorite tastes of the meal was the Bun Cha Ha Noi (pork on vermicelli with dipping sauce)—the flavor was delicious and more intense than the other dishes.

              While I really enjoyed the meal and appreciated a rare opportunity to have banh khot, I think Vietnam House is a bit below my favorite Vietnamese places. What’s lacking is a really tangy and flavorful dipping sauce. Except for the green papaya salad none of the appetizer sauces had much tang or intensity. Without better dipping sauce I don’t think their banh appetizers can compare with neighboring Bodega Bistro or most other really good Vietnamese places. Vietnam House did better on the broken rice and bun plates and I would return for these, for the green papaya salad, and for the banh khot (though Bodega Bistro’s banh xeo is probably overall more tasty thanks to great dipping sauce).

              6 Replies
              1. re: charliemyboy

                I agree that execution at Bodega Bistro is better, esp on the classic dishes. Which are your other favorite Vietnamese places? Are you referring to Vung Tao on Telegraph Hill or the one in San Jose or ?

                1. re: dordogne

                  gotta be the South Bay Vung Tau's. all of them have excellent Banh Khot.

                  i don't think the Telegraph Hill spot is affiliated or even has it on the menu

                  1. re: dordogne

                    Yes, I meant Vung Tau in San Jose. My favorites in SF include Bodega Bistro and Kim Thanh but I still haven't tried a number of the places with good reps.

                  2. re: charliemyboy

                    I returned to the scene of the crime with 5 cohorts today. Having already eaten at Sao Bien but craving the heavenly banh khot available at VH, we ordered just a few dishes.

                    The banh khot was outstanding. The greens were the same as before—lettuce, mint, cilantro and rau ram. I overdid it with the greens wrapping on my first one and missed much of the flavor. When the second order came to us hot out of the oven most of us ate it without greens. Warm enough to almost burn my tongue and full of coconut and other flavors, I think it was the best banh khot I've ever had.

                    The nuoc cham seemed kind of watered down, well below the quality of Bodega Bistro's.

                    I describe the banh xeo we had in the Dish of the Month thread— http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9004...

                    We had the same Banh Cuon Cha Lua as at the Chowdown. The rolls were really good, even better than I remembered, at least when eaten with the garlic dipping sauce provided. The sides were also very good though as before the ham was the weakest of the lot.

                    We also had a broken rice dish— 15. Com Tam Bo Nuong, Tom, Cha grilled lemongrass beef, grilled shrimp, & egg meat pie served with broken rice. It was all very good. The lemongrass beef particularly pleased me.

                    Today I thought the food deserved better than the tone of my above Chowdown post. Everything was really good. I do stand by my critique of the wimpy nuoc cham— if VH only had great nuoc cham they might be at the top of my list of Vietnamese places in the City. They're close even without it.

                    1. re: charliemyboy

                      These 'hounds win the Award for Congeniality. Sharing the table today was a spectacular event of Unrequited Fressen.
                      We were wowed to have our own individual bowls of nuoc cham... here's how to make it at home:
                      http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/blog/...

                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                      1. re: charliemyboy

                        Yes, these were the best banh khot - perfect size, good coconut flavor & custardy inside, crispy on the outside. Delicious at room temp but irresistible hot. Love the undiluted flavor & texture when eaten sans lettuce, herbs, etc.

                    2. Well, I suppose the only necessary and non-superfluous part of this "review" is my thanks to P&W for organizing. Otherwise, my votes tally up along the same lines as the others here.

                      --I too liked the "shrimp cupcakes" ... new to me.

                      --I generally dont like Papaya salad, but liked it here ... I thought it was not so much superior execution, but a different -- and better -- concept.

                      --I didnt like either of the soups much.

                      --I'm generally not a big fan of fresh spring rolls ... I like fried rolls a bit more, and often my assessment of fresh rolls turns on the sauce. The ones at VN House were just ok ... the wrappers were a little tough, although that did mean the rolls had good structural integrity.

                      --I didnt know what I was eating when I was told to grab a rice flour roll and pass the plate ... so I didnt really set my tongue to NMR-mode to really assess the individual ingredients ... which was unfortunate, since it was the wood ear mushroom which attracted me to this option.

                      --I thought the grilled meats were fine ... not hugely far from my regular order at YUMMY YUMMY.

                      --The chicken and green bean dish wasnt best of breed or unique, anything like that, but it was perfectly acceptable. I'd probably not order it again due it being squeezed out by better options, but if someone else wanted to get it, I'd eat it again.

                      --The Thai Iced Tea was kinda lame ... esp at $3. given the amount of ice.

                      I heard on the 3rd Sunday of every month they give a demonstration of their RICE BREAKING MACHINE.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: psb

                        Not much to add myself. Everything goes by in such a blur. Overall, I enjoyed almost all of the food. Though I've been to Vietnam, I'm far from expect on the cuisine. Agree with others that the spring rolls had a thick skin which was hard to chew. Banh Khot were the most memorable part of the meal. Would not describe them as "crisp". Had a nice, soft egg tarty consistency.