By Omar Mamoon
By Kate Williams
By Pete Kane
By Molly Gore
By Lou Bustamante
By Anna Roth
A couple of dishes didn't come up to the same level. Pork spring rolls (goi cuon) were boring: These cold rice-paper wraps should include a bright-tasting mix of pork, shrimp, crunchy vegetable salad, and herbs, set off by a sweet-salty-sour peanut dipping sauce. This version was missing the contrasting textures and the aromatics, and the dipping sauce tasted pretty much like peanut butter. The shaking beef (bo luc lac) was another disappointment: The quickly stir-fried beef didn't seem to have picked up much flavor from its marinade (which per the menu includes five spices and garlic), and its sauce was bland, dominated by celery rather than the usual onion. A lime, salt, and pepper dip helped a bit, but either something was wanting or the dish was just too subtle after a succession of more intensely flavored dishes.
Though there are no desserts on the menu, the kitchen usually sends out a crème caramel for the table to share. This classic French flan is relatively light, obviously made with mostly or all milk instead of heavy cream, and its caramel sauce provides a nice bitter finish to clean the palate.
The wine list is fairly short, 20-odd bottles, with the whites divided equally between the major regions of France and California, and the reds all New World. Prices are mostly reasonable, with glasses from $5.40 to $9, bottles starting at $22.50. If you want to splurge, $81 will get you a fancy Pahlmeyer chardonnay or a Silver Oak cabernet.
San Francisco, CA 94116
Region: Parkside/ Forest Hill
Papaya salad with dried beef$5.90
Pork, jicama, and wood ear mushroom rolls $5.40
Rice vermicelli with crab rolls$13.50
Rice vermicelli with pork$9.00
Rice-flour crepe filled with pork and shrimp$9.00
Roast chicken with mushroom sauce$13.50
Service on recent visits has been informal and sometimes a bit amateurish, but friendly and without any major gaffes. Things were definitely more efficient than a year or so ago, when it was often Kwok and one other person doing everything.
The best testament to Bodega Bistro's quality is the customers. On most of my visits, half or more were Vietnamese, usually in groups of six to a dozen or more adults, eating long, leisurely meals, often consulting with the chef about what to try next or what wine to order. Meanwhile, people from the neighborhood are popping in and out for quick plates of noodles. Fast or fancy, they all leave happy.