Last week in Philadelphia, we went to one of my favorite restaurants, Vietnam. For me, it's that place that I go almost every time I'm back in town. Although they violate several of the 100 things restaurant staffers should never do, including not taking reservations and not seating you until your entire party has arrived, they serve some of my favorite food and I like being there. A few times I've been lucky enough to sit by the windows on the second floor, away from the bustling and often crowded dining room.
Because I only eat at Vietnam once or twice a year, I usually get the same thing. We'll start off with a shared plate of veggie spring rolls, served crispy and cut into big bites. They come with lettuce, mint leaves, carrots, cucumbers, and a side of their house sauce, sweet nuoc mam. The serving is heaping; we split it three ways and all had more than enough.
I also like the tofu rolls, which are very different from the crispy spring rolls: translucent rice paper wraps rice noodles, a slice of tofu, lettuce, bean sprouts, and basil. My photo of these turned out completely blurry. I was slightly self-conscious about snapping photos in the restaurant, even though the family at the next table over was taking camera phone shots of their giggly toddler gnawing on his spoon. The darker the restaurant, the more obtrusive the flash, even when our friendly waiter saw me with the camera out and smiled (or laughed to himself at me!).
For entrees, I usually stick to the vermicelli noodle bowl, known as bun. Alex got the crispy spring roll vermicelli and I got the tofu vermicelli, having already eaten my fill of spring rolls. Both of these bowls have soft rice noodles, lettuce, sprouts, cucumbers and carrots and a little hot sauce. The noodles and vegetables are cool, and the tofu or rolls on top are warm. I pour on some of the sauce and scoop it up -- it's delightful and unlike anything else. I actually prefer the tofu because it's not as crunchy as the spring rolls and the soft tofu really soaks up the sauce. I'm getting hungry again looking at these photos.
One last thing. I very rarely order dessert, although I had dessert both nights in Philly. I was immediately attracted to the black eyed pea pudding when I first saw it, and now I get it nearly every visit. I had no idea until I researched black eyed peas that they are native to India and are grown throughout Asia. So this dessert isn't special to Vietnam Restaurant, and it's even mentioned in Wikipedia -- che dau. It's warm, sweet sticky rice with black eyed peas and coconut milk. And it's seriously good, and almost a surprise as it's so different from the usual way I think of eating black eyed peas and rice.
Excuse the blurry photo. It's not much to look at, but this is a tasty dessert, probably one headed toward being recreated at home.