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Gwen Ashley Walters
May, 2013, Page 132
Photos by Richard Maack
Bo la nho
(fresh spring rolls)
The Tran family’s new Hotel San Carlos eatery scores with exciting food, but the service can be haunting.
Blame it on the legendary ghosts of the historic Hotel San Carlos if you must, but something peculiar is afoot at the hotel’s new restaurant, Bonjour Vietnam, a French-inspired Vietnamese bistro from the Tran family (Rice Paper, Saigon Kitchen). And it has nothing to do with the mostly excellent, aromatic cuisine.
Things look normal enough to the naked eye. By day, Bonjour Vietnam is a cheery, bustling lunch spot with efficient wait staff, hustling between the tiny interior and the wraparound patio. Office workers slurp delicately scented bowls of pho (noodle soups, starting at $7 for half and $9 for whole), and chomp on flaky
(baguette sandwiches generously stuffed with pork or chicken and pickled vegetables, $8).
Bonjour Vietnam is also a hip, quirky place for a nighttime nibble and tipple. The food, by and large, is exciting if not always consistent. Appetizers are strong, especially coupled with draft craft beer and
boisson de specialite
Patio at Bonjour Vietnam
Start with bo la nho ($8), grilled grape leaves stuffed with fragrantly seasoned beef, intensified by fried shallots, or cha gio tom ($8), greaseless, finger-size fried shrimp rolls with an impeccable crunch. Goi cuon (fat, fresh spring rolls, $7-$9.50) are the same as at Rice Paper, as are the
. All three selections are solid.
What’s unique to BV is the list of a half-dozen reasonably priced ($13-$17) entrees. All entrees come with steamed rice (save the unremarkable Cognac-glazed beef filet, $17, which comes with stir-fried noodles) and “seasonal vegetables,” which on each of my visits translated to an unfortunate slab of overcooked zucchini. Two entrees are standouts:
($15) is insanely delicious braised pork (including some belly), cooked so long with a sweetened star anise/fish sauce reduction that it tastes caramelized. Also expect thrills from lemongrass-scented
($14), a baked half Cornish hen with sweetly glazed and caramelized skin.
However, when the sun goes down, you might also expect zany dinner “theater” antics. On one visit, a manager, who doubled as a server one evening, ignored some tables in order to impress a tour group, including downing a sake bomber shot with them. As a result, it took 50 minutes to get our first appetizer, but he sincerely apologized and cut our bill in half. Another evening, the lively owner explained, unprompted, how she was either suffering from food poisoning from a 24-hour burrito joint or the stomach flu, but either way, she had to get back in the kitchen and cook. Did we fall down a rabbit hole – twice?
In the end, Downtown’s Bonjour Vietnam may be a great place to nosh before a show, or it may be the show itself.
202 N. Central Ave., Phoenix
11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.
Bo la nho ($8); cha gio tom ($8); tom chien don ($9.50);
heo kho ($15)
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