St Street/Polk, SF
hearing at Ha Ra
trip to "just off Polk Street"? Yup. Why not, seems to be a
lot going on around those parts. Loads of bars and plenty to eat, not
to mention the occasional freak. We decided to roll the dice and wander
the area looking for a place to dine. Funny enough, we ended up with one
of my favorite cuisines, Vietnamese. Just to let you know, we didn't order
the frog, the pigeon, or the intestines, so if any of you give them a
go let us know.
enjoy the Lemon Beef ($7.95). The waiter was gracious enough to point
out that we were ordering raw meat, and made sure we really wanted it.
As Judge Turner was quick to point out, it's not the same -- or as good
as -- your cooked, seasoned beef dishes, but I must say the beef was thinly
sliced and practically melted in the mouth. If you haven't tried it raw,
it may be worth it just for the novelty.
treat was basically fried calamari, but not quite what you'll find at
the local sports shack. The Muc Rang Muoi($7.95) is deep fried squid with
salt and hot pepper served with rice and slightly unusual dippin' sauce.
You get a huge portion and the lightly battered squids are divine.
choices included Cha Gio (imperial rolls, $3.95), Ga Nuong Ngu Vi Huongm
BBQ Five Spices Chicken ($7.95) and Suon Tom Kho Gung Non($8.45), pork
spareribs and prawns in a clay pot. All were delicious though they were
a bit skimpy on the shrimps.
II has a very large menu, more like a short novel, and includes all the
Chinese type dishes you may be looking for. The atmosphere is friendly
with plenty of seating for you and the gang.
worth a trip to the neighborhood and definitely worth popping in if you're
that we've been too structured lately -- playing it safe, if you will
-- the Court decided to throw its dining dart at the map and let the chips
fall where they may. We picked a part of the Tenderloin looking for either
a hidden gem or a roach-worthy joint. No roaches at Vietnam II, unfortunately.
Although I wouldn't be surprised if they add them to the menu in the future.
And they'd be good!
As you would expect
in The Loin, the neighborhood is a tad seedy. But as this area seems to
be Little Saigon or something, there's bound to be some good Viet vittles.
This would explain the somewhat exotic ingredients on the menu. Everything
from fried pig intestines to sea cucumber to crispy frog in cream sauce.
Perhaps it's a mock frog. They even have an entire section of the menu
dedicated to pigeon. They lumped quail in there with the squabs. We stayed
on the familiar side of things for the most part, except for our daring
order of RAW beef.
We got things rolling
with some crisperiffic imperial rolls ($3.95), which never fail to satisfy.
Right behind that came a big plate of "deep fried squids with salt
and hot pepper," or Muc Rang Muoi ($7.95), which was right-on with
the crunchy coating, tender squid center, and spicy seasoning. Something
unusual in that seasoning, something earthy, but we could never put our
fingers on it.
After the satisfying
apps we hit the entrees with a vengeance. Five Spice Chicken, a perennial
favorite, was very good. Well-browned from the grill outside and juicy
within. Also $7.95, but a good-sized portion there. Then there was the
"clay pot" dish, Suon Tom Kho Gung Non, which came in a very
non-clay pot (aluminum, I think) and contained pork spareribs and prawns
in a rich, sweet, spicy sauce. Very tasty, but apparently prawns cost
more than gold these days, because I think we only fished five of the
little buggers out of the pot. What is up with the prawn rip-off in Asian
restaurants?! It's chronic.
Finally, our daredevil
dining dish: Bo Tai Chanh! That would be fresh and RAW beef tenderloin
in lemon juice and seasonings. And it was, for $7.95. Wafer thin slices
of bright red beef, soaked in lemon juice and spices, with mint and stuff
piled on top. Pretty tasty and tender, but frankly, I think there is a
reason why beef is cooked, as a rule. Next time I might go for the sea
cucumber for a culinary thrill.
So, check out Vietnam
II before taking in a show at the Great American Music Hall, or, er, the
Mitchell Brothers, and tell me how that crispy frog is, if you do.
Court" is how we billed this one. Meet at a Tenderloin bar and wander
until the right -- or wrong -- restaurant grabs us. A fresh approach for
judges with nearly 50 decisions on the books. We're progressive, man.
The Tenderloin is
magic at dusk. After passing on an overpriced Korean BBQ joint on Geary,
we strolled the quaint area around Larkin and Ellis until settling on
Vietnam II, a massive restaurant with an equally expansive menu. Riding
the buzz of our spontaneous restaurant pick, we nearly went radical with
our order (frog was discussed) until going pretty conservative, except
for the Bo Tai Chanh ($7.95). That's very thin raw beef "cooked"
in lemon juice. I'd just had something similar at Le Cheval in Oakland.
Sure enough, it was awfully red and awfully raw, but delicious. When eating
it, you don't think raw as much as fresh, since it lacks the grease or
run-off of cooked meat.
Imperial rolls ruled
as always, affirming my belief that they are NEVER not great. Someday
I will cook them and then we'll really know. Most of the non-seafood
entrees clock in around eight bucks, and the portions are quite generous.
While we may have secretly yearned for a restaurant to roach, Vietnam
II was clearly not it. Our first Mystery Court netted us a winner.