First Impressions: Taste of Vietnam

On a tip from a reader, I heard that Taste of Vietnam was opening in the former China Chili space on Fremont. I rallied a fellow foodie to test out the waters on opening day.

Taste of Vietnam opened up in Seaside a couple of weeks ago. I stopped in to check things out on opening day.

Walking in, we noticed it was quite the transformation from the old China Chili space.

Taste of Vietnam is really marketing its bar--

One side includes a large bar, with a sleek black countertop and flat-screen TVs; the other side includes a spacious dining room. We were seated promptly in the large, but sparse, dining room.

The dining room has been completely transformed and feels modern, but stark.

The full menu wasn’t available yet, but there was still quite a lengthy array of Vietnamese fare to choose from. (Though boba and smoothie drinks weren’t available yet.)

We started with the spring rolls (Goi Cuon, two for $3.75) and the sweet and spicy garlic fried chicken wings (Canh Ga Chien Nuoc Mam, $8.50). It was more than a little disappointing that our appetizers didn’t arrive until after our entrees. It was a clearly a rookie mistake, and I hope the kitchen has tightened up its operation by now.

The chicken wings were easily the best bite of the whole meal--but how can you go wrong with fried chicken?!?!

The chicken wings were by far the best bite of the entire meal. They were so crispy and flavorful—a nice blend of spicy garlic flavor, with a hint of sweetness. They were so flavorful I was willing to forgive eating chicken off the bone, something I’m usually loathe to do. (Why? Because it’s so messy! And I went through a whole stack of napkins devouring these chicken wings.)

The spring rolls turned out to be quite an adventure. The kitchen sent out fried egg rolls (Cha Gio, $5.75). When we pointed out the mistake, the kitchen let us keep the egg rolls and soon after delivered us our spring rolls too.

After a mixup with the kitchen, the egg rolls were an unexpected addition at lunch.

The egg rolls were a little greasy, and the filling was a little gritty for my tastes. But the spring rolls were quite good. I was impressed with how much filling was wrapped inside—shrimp, sliced pork and veggies. They were so flavorful, I didn’t even need the accompanying peanut sauce.

When they finally did arrive, the spring rolls were actually quite good. So tasty we dug in before I could snap a virgin photo. Oops.

For our entrees, I chose the Vietnamese crepe (Banh Xeo, $7.50). My friend chose the BBQ pork vermicelli noodle bowl (Bun Thit Nuong, $7.25).

The Vietnamese crepe was light and fluffy, but fell flat in flavor.

I was disappointed with the crepe. It had a nice texture—very light and fluffy—but was a little bland. The shrimp and sliced green onions inside didn’t have much flavor, nor did the bean sprouts. Only after I doctored it with sauces and, of course, Sriracha did it start to grow on me. (And can I say what a treat it was to be the first to christen the shiny new bottle of Sriracha? Ha!)

My friend reported the vermicelli bowl was so-so. I snuck a bite here and there and I have to agree. I thought the noodles were a little gummy, and the pork wasn’t very flavorful.

My biggest complaint about Taste of Vietnam was the price. I couldn’t help but think how much cheaper the food is down the street at Noodle Bar or Chopstix. Both will give you a tasty meal for far fewer pennies. Can Taste of Vietnam really compete when the same dish—a BBQ pork noodle bowl—costs $2 less a couple blocks away? The flavors really need to be spot on to differentiate Taste of Vietnam from their neighbors and competitors. Right now, the flavors weren’t quite there for me—but hopefully they’ll get there soon.

Shiny, new bottles of Srirach and other sauces stood ready for diners.

Bottom line? Taste of Vietnam shows promise with more diverse Vietnamese offerings on their menu than the local noodle shops. I just hope the kitchen settles into a better groove.

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