San Leandro Reviews
Summary: Vietnamese bistro serving exotic yet accessible food in stylish surroundings at slightly high prices. We weren't impressed on our last visit.
Update: This restaurant is closed
In the last few years a new class of restaurants, which I have deigned to call "Asian bistros," has sprung up in the Bay Area. These restaurants are characterized by simple yet sleek dining rooms, often with walls painted in modern colors and decorated with paintings of country scenes or other East-meets-West sort of art. They feature stylized lamps and furniture and even interesting dinnerware. They are usually moderately priced - some are outright cheap - and present menus of "continentalized" food from a particular country. I hesitate to call their offerings "fusion," as what I understand by this term are dishes in which a chef draws inspiration from Asian and European cuisines to come up with something new. I know very little about Asian food, but I don't think this is what's happening here. Clearly these restaurants don't serve "traditional" food from their countries - though some well known dishes do make occasional appearances - but rather dishes that appear to have been modified for a new audience: whether that be Americans or just restaurant patrons I'm not sure. The dishes tend to be simple, clean and probably easy for the restaurant to cook and serve. Stir-fries, grilled meats and versatile curries predominate. Flavors manage to be both familiar and exotic, making the restaurants ideal haunts both for novices and sophisticated eaters. In other words, these restaurants are just what the Bay Area needs.
In San Leandro we are fortunate enough to have two of these Asian Bistros, Vo's and Le Soleil (I consider Cre-Asian, a possibly third example, to be more of a traditional fusion restaurant). The food in both of them is excellent, though we tend to patronize Le Soleil because it's significantly cheaper. Still I like going to Vo's from time to time to explore its ever changing menu and have one of their amazing fruit shakes.
I last visited it last February 2006 with my friend Lola. This time we shared an order of the fried chicken wings which were served with peanut sauce ($7 for 7 wings, I think - I'll never understand why restaurants insist on serving a prime number of appetizers, assuring that you can never divide them equally no matter how many people there are in your party). The wings were nice and crispy and the peanut sauce was good, if a bit too sour for my taste, but the two items did not go very well together, their flavors just did not compliment each other. I think they would have been better with that sweet-sour sauce that's often served at Vietnamese and Thai restaurants. Lola was of the exact same opinion. In past visits we've also enjoyed their deep fried rolls (their names and ingredients change) which feature an amazingly crispy shell.
My entree consisted of honey-glazed pork chops, I liked them quite a bit, enjoyed that they weren't too sweet, though I did find them quite fatty and a bit boring by the end. Still, I'd order it again as a dish to share. Lola had the claypot: chicken, beef, prawns, vegetables and rice panfried and then baked in a clay pot. She found the dish very homey and satisfying on a cold night and enjoyed it a lot. I think both dishes were around $12, give or take a couple of dollars. Neither was particularly generous, though we weren't hungry after sharing the appetizer. In the past we've also enjoyed the lemongrass beef.
As usual the best part of the meal were the strawberry shakes ($4). These are fresh tasting and sinfully delicious - I don't understand why Le Soleil doesn't serve them. I've had the pineapple one before and it's good, though not as good as the strawberry.
The dessert list is pretty good for a Vietnamese restaurant, but on the expensive side (most desserts were $5 - $7). In addition to the obligatory fried banana, they had caramelized banana, creme brulee and pudding. This time Lola and I skipped dessert but on a previous visit Mike had the caramelized banana, which came with ice cream and chocolate syrup. We both thought it was very good, though given the $7 price, it should have had more banana slices. I've had the fried banana and it was OK, though not as sweet and delicious as others I've had.
As I mentioned at the start, the restaurant is very nice. It's small but looks much larger inside; there are a multitude of tables actually not crowded together. A big, fancy water fountain, with fog welcomes you into an stylish and comfortable room. The wait staff is very agreeable and eager to please. In all, it's a great place to go.
277 Parrott St.
San Leandro, Ca.
Note. This is an updated review of Vo's. You can find the older review here