Sunday, April 19, 2009

Review: Viet French Café

Tucked next to the Oregon Diner in one of those Asian supermarket complexes that dot the South Philly landscape these days, it's the Viet French Café. With a few dozen varieties of bánh mì, or "Vietnamese hoagies", on the menu, you're sure to find something you like, so long as you like sandwiches served on a baguette with cilantro, jalapeño and shredded carrot and daikon.

Well, you may find something you like. A bit of confusion when L ordered a "tofu" sandwich meant that what she got was a baguette filled with what we suspect was actually the "vegetarian steamed ham", slices of an off-puttingly cylindrical plug of black pepper-flecked texturized vegetable protein.

But let's chalk that up to faulty ordering. Everyone knows a real bánh mì has pork in it. And the "#1" with grilled/barbecued pork strips was pretty good. The pork was well cooked, tender, and sufficiently porky, and offset nicely by the sweet pickled vegetables, spicy jalapeño, creamy mayonnaise and, um, cliantro-y cilantro.

It's this interplay of ingredients that makes the classic bánh mì so good, but the baguette is the stage upon which this drama of flavors unfolds. If you buy this metaphor, then VFC's baguette ain't no Carnegie Hall. Though it is nice and crisp on the outside, it's almost a little too light and airy and lacks substance.

But wait – three bucks? Buy five, get one free? The cheapskate in me can't help but cheer for that. Still, though it's good enough if you're in the area, I don't think the place is worth a special trip. I'm sure there are of plenty of places around Ninth Street where you can get something tastier and just as cheap, and even get real tofu in your sandwich if you absolutely insist.

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