Tuesday, March 2, 2010

don't judge a book by its cover

so for round 2 of pad thai-o-rama it was off to viet bangkok cuisine at 249 saint john street.  this restaurant is very close to my home and i have gone by it many times on my way to enjoy a delicious vietnamese sandwich at kim's souvenir shop, but that's a discussion for another time.  anyway, based on the exterior, i have never thought it a restaurant i wanted to try.  in fact, i planned never to try it.  so when we got out assignment for the second round, i was far from enthused.  but i did my duty as food blogger and took on my assignment, albeit with a slightly closed mind.
i was surprisingly pleased once we walked into viet bangkok.  its a small clean restaurant with all the requisite kitschy south east asian decor.  there were no customers when we first walked in and we were greeted with a friendly hello by a woman i guessed is the owner.  just after we sat down, another table of three came in, but that was it for customers while we were there.  which led me to the realization that this food blogging challenge is not just fun, but we are helping to stimulate our local economy and hopefully getting some readers to also eat out.
viet bangkok's menu, you may guess from their name, is not strictly thai, but vietnamese and seemingly chinese too.  seth got very excited when he saw the long list of fruity tropical cocktails.  alas, they didn't have pineapple juice, so could not make nearly 1/3 of their cocktails.  we both settled for a singha, served iced cold.
per usual, i had to convince seth that neither one of us needed to start our meal with a heaping plate of fried food by ordering the sample appetizer plate.  but i did let him pick out our starter, and, per usual, he chose the crab rangoon.  i'm not a huge fan of crab rangoon for multiple reasons, most importantly because i don't think they ever taste like crab.  this version was really no crabbier than any other that i have eaten, but they were pretty tasty.  the fried wanton was crisp around the edges but sort of soft in the center and the cream cheese filling was flavorful without being overly sweet (another complaint of mine about rangoon).  the sweet and sour sauce was also especially good with the sweetness nicely balanced with salty fish sauce.
for our main courses we ordered the spicy duck from the house specials and the chu chee curry with shirmp from the thai curry section.  viet bangkok offers the choice of white or brown jasmine rice.  i know brown rice must not be traditional in thailand but i think its nuttiness goes so perfectly with the sweet and spicy sauces of thai cuisine.
the spicy duck description stated it was a dish of boneless roasted duck specially prepared with eggplants, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, carrots, and scallions in a chili basil sauce.  no where did it mention that the duck with be small pieces of tempura battered meat, which was a little disappointing.  i love duck and i eat enough of it to know that if cooked properly, its skin will be plenty crispy and no tempura batter will be necessary.  the thick coating of batter detracted from that fabulous ducky flavor.  but even with the protein of this dish falling short, it was quite yum.  the chili basil sauce was fragrant and flavorful and the huge portion was overflowing with tons of perfectly cooked veggies.
the chu chee curry with shrimp came out about 5 minutes after the crispy duck, so i am glad we were sharing both and one of us didn't get left waiting while the other ate.  this was the biggest serving of curry i have ever seen.  food writing is full of hyperbole, but this is not one, the serving was huge.  in truth, there was a whole lot of curry, and sort of a normal amount of everything else.  this entire dish had 6 giant prawns, which tasted as though they were cooked separately with lemon grass on a grill.  they were huge and tasty.  on my initial bite, i was overwhelmed by a flavor i couldn't place, but which would best be described as tasting of plastic.  interestingly, after a few more bites this flavor didn't bother me so much, and i really enjoyed the dish. 
even though there were some weird elements in both our main courses and seth couldn't get his drink on because of the lack of pineapple juice, i enjoyed our meal at viet bangkok.  as our assignment is to try all the thai restaurants in portland, we stuck to their thai selections for this meal.  but i'm intrigued and i will defiantly be heading back to try out some of their vietnamese and chinese dishes.  it was also a really great value and we had enough leftover to both have large lunches the next day.  so take my advice and don't judge this restaurant by exterior.  you may get some surprises in your dishes, but overall i think it will be enjoyable.


Kate. said...

nice review! we definitely had a good time there, but i haven't found my go-to thai spot yet! and i like your new template.

where is jenner's mind said...

i want to go back and try the pho now. since you liked the pho you need to try than than 2 and saigon. even though i find it very weird that saigon opened up right across the street from than than, its good.

Dawn said...

Thanks for the Than Than and Saigon recommendations. Maybe I'll do a "Pho-off"