Thursday, November 6, 2008

Vietnam, Chinatown, Philly, PA, USA

Click photo for Vietnam Restaurant's official website

How's that for an identity crisis? In the unlikely midst of the hustle and bustle of Philly's Chinatown lies the Zagat-rated Vietnam Restaurant at 11th and Spring St. Armed with a dozen other independent rave reviews on various food sites, it was time to sink my teeth into the restaurant's offerings and decide for myself.

First up, the decor was totally fancy, much like stepping into a time-space warp from the streets of Chinatown. Love the hardwood panels, cozy low ceilings, dim lights, and ethnic pictures. Apparently there's also a bar on the 3rd floor for pre-dinner drinks.

Our party of four had the BBQ appetizer platter which included crispy spring rolls, beef-stuffed grape leaves, char-grilled chicken, grilled meat balls, and rice vermicelli, lettuce and rice paper for your DIY rolls. The BBQ was tasty and crispy, but what blew me away was the yummy dips with copious sprinklings of diced peanuts. We also had the Goi Cuon or shrimp and pork rolls which were as fresh as you can get in any decent Vietnamese dining. Once again, the dip was pretty amazing.

The entrees were somewhat of an anti-climax after our wonderful appetizers. I had the Pho Tai (Beef flank steak noodle soup) and was wondering about the $5.75 price tag at such a fancy restaurant. What could possibly go wrong for this all-time favorite staple dish? Alas, a puny bowl with a few slices of beef arrived with lukewarm soup literally overflowing once I attempted to dip the accompanying bean sprouts and herbs. It felt more like an appetizer and I've had much better Pho in Philly.

One of my companions ordered the Com Tam Dac Biet (House special broken rice) which was a hearty dish of char-grilled chicken, pork, beef and crab meat egg, and according to him was pretty tasty much like the BBQ platter we had earlier. The others had variations of the pan-fried crispy noodles, one of which was the Mi Xao Que Huong (Saigon noodle). They took about 7 minutes to demolish their entrees which was good serving of noodles, shrimp and chicken, so I'm assuming that they were reasonably impressed with those.

Dessert was a super-potent wonderfully creamy Vietnamese drip coffee served in a normal coffee cup (which is not too authentic) rather than the typical aluminium drip pot. Not for folks used to single-shot lattes, the coffee will guarantee hours of hyper-alertness. . . . Another gripe is the lack of free refills for hot tea which is kind of a given in most Asian restaurants.

Overall, Vietnam is a lovely restaurant with great ambience for special occasions, excellent appetizers, good variety, and reasonable pricing. For staples though, if you're not fussy with the decor, there are plenty of other good Vietnamese outlets over in South Philly.

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