It's a pleasant setting but flavor is priority number 1 at this Vietnamese delight. Our party of 4 plowed through 9 items and none was a disappointment. "Bo bia" ($7), rice paper rolls with jicama, shrimp, sausage, peanuts, and sweet bean sauce, had great texture and taste. "Tom cuon" ($7) rolls featured grilled prawns, cucumbers, herbs, and peanut sauce, also excellent. Some of us thought they were a touch too spicy. These are best enjoyed with fish-sauce dip. None was on the table, we had to ask for it. "Chao tom" ($10) is a wonderfully creative Vietnamese specialty, a shrimp paste that is wrapped around a stick of sugar cane and grilled. It comes with fixings and you assemble a roll. Cut the shrimp paste off the stick, put it on a rice pancake, add mint, cilantro, angel-hair rice noodles, and peanut sauce. Roll it up and go for the fish-sauce dip. Don't forget to chew on the sugar cane afterwards. Inspiring! "Goi du du" ($9) was a salad of green papaya, shrimp, dried beef, and peanuts. At first I thought the portion was a bit small for a salad, but it proved to be a satisfying amount. It tasted bright and fresh but some of us thought it was a tad too spicy. "Pho bo" ($10), the ubiquitous beef soup with noodles and herbs, had lots of good beef but the broth could have been richer. "Tom so nuong" ($18), 5 prawns & 4 scallops and string beans, came with a light curry sauce that held its taste. "Ca kho" ($17) was billed as salmon fillet simmered in a clay pot with a caramelized black pepper sauce. It proved to be a metal pot but the dish was very flavorful, the salmon tender and sweet. "Cari tom" ($19) was intensely flavored because the shrimps and scallops were well charcoal-grilled, served with perfectly-grilled vegetables in a lime-basil sauce; the shittake mushrooms tasted like steak. The standout dish was "tom thit rim" ($16), caramelized shrimp and pork rib in pepper sauce. Here we had pieces of pork that were so dense, so focused, so concentrated, that they reminded us a little of liver. A very memorable flavor indeed. For dessert we shared hot banana bread topped with Tahitian (whatever that is) vanilla ice cream. Toasted coconut shreds were sprinkled around the plate. Fabulous! The banana bread had good "mouthfeel" -- the crumb had starch and stiffness and the bananas were soft but not mushy. Service was attentive and helpful, and all our questions were patiently answered. If you would like to escape restaurants that serve bland, formula dishes cooked with insufficient time and heat, here is a place with fresh ingredients, confident and accomplished cooking, and finesse.
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