Bang San Thai Cuisine Jones

Bang San Thai on Jones is the definition of a hole in the wall.  It’s cute and very very tiny, I’d say it can comfortably seat less than 20 people.   

Steve and I went here with my dad the day after New Year’s.  So this is the first Goldentooth foray of 2010!  How exciting!  Right?  You’re hella excited, I know.  Carrying on…

We were there pretty early, my dad is getting old and he likes to eat early, you know how old people are.  Just kidding!  Actually it was because my dad gave me a ride up from Ventura that day and we didn’t stop for snacks, so by the time we got to San Francisco our tummies were growlin’.  Eating early is fine with me anyway, it meant that we were the only people in the restaurant. 

One thing about these halal places, there’s no booze obviously.  This is a demerit in the books of both Steve and my dad.  I admit it’s a shame, because beer is the perfect cooling accompaniment to spicy Thai food, but this is the price you pay for (usually) a higher quality of ingredients.  So a round of Thai iced teas was ordered, and they were good.  The tea flavor was very strong, much more so than the average Thai iced tea you come upon. 

Sorry, it’s tom yum gai again.  Yes, I always order this, I can’t help it, I love this soup!  This was a fine version, not too spicy and not too sweet, with lots of mushrooms and chicken bobbing in the murky red broth.  It made my lips tingle, but not enough to stop slurping it down.   

Next we had an exceptional seafood salad.  I thought it was pretty excellent anyway.  I think Steve was put off by the rareness of the seafood, but I thought it was cooked perfectly considering the freshness of the shellfish, especially the scallops which were unbelievably sweet and tender.  I even enjoyed the mussels, which I’m usually not a fan of.  The sauce was a bit gritty, which I found odd and off putting at first, but forgot about pretty quickly because the flavor was so nice.

I’ve mentioned before that my dad likes stuff spicy, so this, the pa nang curry with chicken, is the dish we ordered extra hot and spicy.  I had a bit of stress picking out this dish, it went kind of like this; we want a curry!  well, what kind?  oh, I don’t know, whatever you like Mel.  Now, this is bothersome enough to me in ordinary circumstances because I hate making decisions.  However, when it comes to making decisions about curries, it’s even more trying to me, because I don’t generally care especially for Thai curries, and rarely order them, and therefore don’t know which kind of curry I like.  I know yellow is the non-hot one, but do I prefer green to red?  With coconut milk or without?  I just don’t know!  So I kind of randomly picked pa nang curry, a red curry with coconut milk, out of the list.  And I ended up being terrified of it.  As we were eating our soup and salad we heard the sizzle of raw food hitting a searing hot pan and soon the small dining room was filled with a steam or smoke and aroma that singed the nose and made the eyes water and caused me to cough.  I was like, holy crap, they’re really making that stuff spicy.  If the cooking fumes are effecting me like this, I don’t want to imagine what putting the actual food in my mouth will do to me.  The dish arrived at the table and it looked like it was probably pretty spicy and I refused to try it until maybe the tenth time Steve told me it really wasn’t that bad (I can’t trust my dad, he would probably bite into a raw jalapeno and tell me it wasn’t spicy).  And you know what?  It really wasn’t.  It was pretty unremarkable actually.  Just another damn curry.  There wasn’t anything wrong with it, but there was nothing exciting about it either.  And my dad was pretty bummed that they didn’t make it spicy for him.  It was almost like they went out of their way to make it not spicy. 

For our final dish we had trouble deciding whether to get the wide chow fun-esque noodles that my dad likes or the thai barbeque that we knew was a Bang San specialty, or to get both and have way way too much food.  Luckily, the specials board made the decision for us.

The super kee mao was a perfect alternative, combining drunken noodles (the flat rice noodles with pepper and basil) and your choice of barbeque beef or lamb.  We got lamb because that is Steve’s jam.

Mmm, that picture is making me salivate a little.  This was the best dish we ordered.  Perfectly cooked lamb, slightly charred, a little pink inside and easily yielding to the teeth topped wok fried gelatinous noodles that were just bursting with flavor, tangled up with slivers of peppers and green beans that hadn’t had all the crunch cooked out of them.  It was served with this little dish of a very unusual sauce, kind of like a chimichurri with fish sauce.  It was very salty but contrasted the sweet in the lamb and the noodles very nicely.  Definitely an order again dish.  My dad wanted me to get a close up of the noodles, so I did my best.

All in all, a kind of “eh” experience for me and my two favorite guys at Bang San.  I enjoyed all the food well enough, though it was another Thai restaurant that simply could not live up to Lers Ros.  My dad felt the same way I think.  In fact, he told me after our meal that he didn’t like anything we ate.  Then he retracted and said the Kee Mao was ok.  And he liked his iced tea.  I think probably he was peeved about the lack of spiciness in the Pa Nang, and I can’t blame him for that.  It’s a problem in many restaurants that serve cuisines with spicy dishes.  And it’s hard to blame the wait staff and the restauranteurs, to them my dad looks like any touristo who thinks they like spicy food because they put the fire sauce on their bean burrito (though I feel like people should be able to take one glance at my dad and his swarthy, cossack complexion and know he’s a guy who’s serious about his spicy food).  Bang San is not my first choice for Thai food in the Tenderloin, but for sure it’d be in my top five.  It has very good barbeque and lots of options for vegetarians and vegans, and, in my experience, are a reliable delivery provider. 

Bang San Thai Cuisine Jones

505 Jones

www.bangsanthai.com

Vietnam Too

This is a story of Vietnam Too restaurant, but it’s not the same old story.  If this had been the story of any other of my visits to VT, it would go like this: the food was really good and surprisingly cheap and it came out fast and the servers were not going out of their ways to be nice but they seemed to tolerate me.  But that’s not the story this time.  I’m not sure why.  It could be because Steve and I sat at a table for maybe 10 minutes waiting for Bryan and Sarah to get there and we were asked maybe 3 times if we were ready to order and we said, no, we were waiting for a couple people.  Though, it would be pretty silly to be upset with us for that, since they have a large restaurant and it was largely empty and we did order beers.  Maybe it’s because once Bryan and Sarah got there, it still took us a little bit to order food.  Or maybe it’s because we ordered more food than could fit on our table.  I don’t know.  All I know is that it saddens me a little to be writing about the worst experience I’ve had at a restaurant I really like for this blog.

See, there we are enjoying our 33s while we wait, looking out on a mostly empty dining room.  Bryan and Sarah arrived shortly after I took this picture and we got down to figuring out the food sitch.

I like everything I’ve ever ordered at Vietnam Too, but mostly I’m interested in the banh hoi.  These are make your own spring rolls, you choose your protein and they bring out a dish of grilled meat, a plate of greens and sweet pickled veggie, a bowl of boiling hot water and a stack of dry rice paper wrappers.  It’s fun and tasty and I was way excited to try it again.  We ordered the BBQ prawns to share. 

Steve and I ordered the combination Won Ton soup for the two of us.  It was ok, but not my favorite thing ever because, you know, fish balls.  Yeah, it had fish balls in it, which I wasn’t expecting and didn’t really appreciate.  Otherwise it was fine, but disappointing in comparison to the other soups I’ve tried there (like Crab and Asparagus soup) which have been excellent.

Sarah ordered the green papaya salad for the table.  I don’t eat papaya salad that often but I always enjoy it when I do, and this was no exception.  There was a nice melding of sweet, tangy and salty and I liked the juicy crunchiness of the papaya.  My favorite part of this dish was the lightly fried prawns that dotted the top.  They evoked what popcorn shrimp could be if popcorn shrimp was routinely delicious.  Light and lacy outside, sweet and tender on the inside, they were a perfect complement to the vegetable part of the salad.

The banh hoi arrived, the lemongrass scented BBQ prawns on a bed of cellophane noodle that soaked up all the oil and juices the little crustaceans released.  The oddly textured things to the back left of the prawns in the above picture are the rice paper wrappers, and to the back right you see the lettuce, herbs (mint and basil), bean sprouts and pickled carrots and cucumbers you use to put your wrap together.  Some people like to put the lettuce inside the rice paper, i like to have the lettuce on the very outside of everything.  Whichever way is right, it’s all equally delicious.  Though, I have to say, I didn’t think the prawns were as delicious as the charbroiled pork I’d had here before.  They certainly couldn’t live up to the bodacious prawns from the papaya salad. 

Steve and I also ordered the pork kebab as, I guess, our main course.  Though I’m not sure why we thought we needed so much food.  By the time this dish came out, I was pretty full.  Still, I managed to cram a couple bites of pork into my overstuffed gullet.  It was flavorful and tender, with some charred and caramalized edges that I really liked, but it probably wasn’t the best choice for our one main dish, considering that it was just a big pile of meat on a plate.  I get a little antsy if I don’t see any vegetables.  But that’s neither here nor there I suppose, because it was still yummy.  We did get bowls of their very good brown rice to eat with the pork, and the smoky sweet meat went very well with the sweet and nutty rice.

This is where it starts to get kind of funny again.  Not funny ha ha, funny weird.  Bryan and Sarah had ordered their own main courses, each was getting a bowl of pho tai.  Well, our pork kebab had been on the table for several minutes, but still no big cauldrons of soup had arrived.  Bryan flagged the waiter down to ask about the pho, and the waiter said they’d be right out.  Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m something of a veteran noodle soup eater, so I have a pretty good handle on how long it takes a bowl of pho to get from kitchen to table, and it’s roughly between 30 seconds and 3 minutes.  I can’t remember a time, even in the busiest restaurants, when it took longer than that between my order and my receiving the soup.  I don’t recall exactly how much time had passed by the time B and S’s phos were set down in front of them (I’d had a few 33s by that hour) but my internal clock knew it was longer than it should have been.  Also, the soups were not accompanied by their standard herb and citrus accoutrement, though at this point our companions decided beggars can’t be choosers and just dug into their soggy noodles without condiments.  Also, the “rare” beef in the bowls was completely cooked through, perhaps suggesting that the bowls had been sitting in the kitchen ready to go for some time.  So the meal ended on something of a low note. 

All in all, this was an out of the ordinary meal at this establishment.  I am not pleased to report it here to you, since I am otherwise quite fond of the restaurant.  Overall the food was good, but nothing was particularly outstanding, and the service, which I feel isn’t their strong suit on a normal day, was strangely hostile.  I definitely do not want to dissuade you from trying Vietnam Too, it is a great place for affordable Vietnamese food that is a step or two above average.  I suppose I’d just recommend that you don’t get seated before your whole party has arrived…and that you don’t over order.  Good luck!

And hey, check out their cool fountain while you’re there!

Vietnam Too

701 Larkin St

Their Yelp Page