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Vietnam II lost a Vietnamese Trial
versus Cordon Bleu

Vietnam II
701 Larkin St Street/Polk, SF
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Pretrial hearing at Ha Ra


Out front.Another 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.

We did 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.

Another 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.

Our other 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.

Vietnam 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.

It's worth a trip to the neighborhood and definitely worth popping in if you're already there.



Imperial RollsFeeling 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.



Squids"Mystery 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.






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