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!
701 Larkin St