Monday, July 4, 2011

Vietnam Restaurant

Vietnam Restaurant is located on Center Street in downtown Salem, Oregon.

I've had Vietnam Restaurant's salad rolls and chow fun (yes, the Cantonese dish) a couple of years ago. At the time, they gave a hefty amount of chow fun that lasted me at least three meals. I'm not sure how it is now, but it is probably the same portion size. I really enjoyed my food then, and I'm only rating this place now.

Last Monday afternoon, I was strolling through downtown Salem, figuring out what to eat for dinner. I figured pho would hit the spot -- yes, even on an 80-plus-degree day.

A boy was manning the counter, and I reckon it was the owner's son. I asked for a to-go menu, but he politely told me they were out at that time. So I went ahead and looked at their in-house menu.

I elected to get their #8 for $6.50...their pho with beef, meatball, tripe, and tendon. I wanted to order something Vietnamese -- their signature to boot -- so that I could fairly rate this establishment.

I ordered my food to go. While waiting for my order, I decided to take some pictures. The boy was curious on what I was doing, so I honestly said it was for this food blog. I also gave him the link to this site; figure any sort of free press would be worth it. I wasn't taking any pictures of prohibited areas, so I figure I'm clean there, right?

Anyway, my order arrived pretty fast. The boy, who wanted to know a bit more about my blog, forgot that I hadn't paid yet for my pho. But of course, I'm an honest dude, so I gave them the money. I briskly walked home to enjoy my meal.

They smartly kept everything separate
Well, maybe not everything was separate.
Here are strips of beef, tripe, and tendon -- located underneath the rice noodles
Didn't like how the rice noodles stuck together while inside the take-out box
In my opinion, the key to a good pho is their broth, and the broth was pretty good here. It was still temperature-hot, had a mild flavor to it, and not overpowering in any way. I felt at peace sipping the broth, knowing it wouldn't be heavy in the stomach.

The jalapenos, basil, cilantro, and bean sprouts complemented the light broth. After dumping it all in the broth, I gulped it all down pretty fast.

The spicy sauce was flavorful, with a tinge of kick. I wonder if they can make an even spicier sauce for me next time. Bring the heat...I'm not scared!

I liked how everything -- the broth, noodles, spicy sauce, sprouts, basil, jalapenos, and cilantro -- was kept separate. Basically a must, in my book, to keep the components separate on a to-go order.

Now, on to a couple points of concern. First, the rice noodles, put in a take-out box, sat on top of the beef, tripe, and tendons. I would prefer the noodles stay separate from the meat, but that's just nitpicking on my part. The more major issue was that the noodles stuck together like glue when cooling in the take-out box. A little oil -- such as canola -- should have been tossed on the noodles to prevent sticking (should be done either when the noodles are still in the boiling water or immediately after it comes out of the water). Maybe that's not traditional Vietnamese, but it's better than having to pry chunks of noodles off. As a note, I could have just dumped the entire noodle mass into the hot beef broth, but I wanted to save some noodles for next time (this was more than one meal for me).

Second, the decor left something to be desired. It appeared dark in several areas of the restaurant. The inside does feel a bit dated; perhaps it needs some lighting and design work to make it more lively and contemporary.

Overall, Vietnam Restaurant has above-average food and service, but it's knocked down a point or two for the decor/ambiance. I liked the pho, but the owners should take steps to ensure the rice noodles don't stick together, especially on to-go orders. As a note, the chow fun I ate from Vietnam Restaurant in the past was quite greasy...not sure how it is now. Also, a few changes to the decor can really make the place come alive and give the dine-in customer a more pleasant experience. 5.5/10

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