By Omar Mamoon
By Kate Williams
By Pete Kane
By Molly Gore
By Lou Bustamante
By Anna Roth
Among the entrees are prawns wrapped in pork strips, marinated with lemongrass and grilled until tough, bland, and rubbery; a five-spice beef stew with no discernible five-spice, leaden noodles, the occasional tasty carrot, and beef as chewy as Juicy Fruit; and a chicken breast curry with an inoffensive, mildly spicy broth that doesn't quite make up for chicken overcooked to the shoe-leather stage.
In addition to those already mentioned, desserts include sweet red strawberries with a sugary, nearly flavorless lime sorbet, a dense, clumsy banana tart with a crust you have to saw through, and a red bean-coconut shake with too much ice, not enough red bean paste, and an overall flavor that according to our table's red bean- coconut shake expert was "straight outta the jar."
Then there's the nonchalant, poorly timed service. It's pleasant enough, and knowledgeable enough, but you're left to your own devices for lengthy and irregular intervals. Uncleared tables, unfilled water glasses, and a 20-minute wait for the dessert menu are the norm. ("So much waiting, and the wait ain't worth it," observed one fellow diner.)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Region: Mission/ Bernal Heights
Crispy rolls $8
Crunchy tofu $10
Skewered pork $10
Lychee sorbet $4.50
Chocolate ice cream $4.50
Open for dinner nightly from 6 to 10 p.m.
Parking: possible; lot at 3255 21st St. (one block north)
Muni: 26 (one block east)
Noise level: tranquil
The wine list, meanwhile, features 27 moderately priced bottles from all over, plus a daily selection of open bottles for sampling by glass or carafe; this daily list isn't printed out, but spoken (rapidly), so instead of ruminating over your selection (a near-necessity when you're dealing with a cuisine of spicy, complex flavors), you're forced into a now-or-never snap decision. I myself settled for a bottle or two of Vietnam's own 33, a typically light and prosaic yet thirst-quenching beer. It's a fine choice on these balmy Mission evenings, especially if you stick to Tao Cafe's ice cream and score a chorizo torta at El Farolito beforehand.