San Francisco may have the Slanted Door and Asian fusion may have spread throughout the rest of the country, but one of the original pioneers and still my favorite Vietnamese restaurant of all time remains hidden in San Jose.
Before Asian fusion became the calling card of California cuisine; before Slanted Door and Ana Mandara in San Francisco; before Three Seasons and Tamarine in Palo Alto; there simply was Vung Tau.
I actually recall eating here over 15 years ago and being so impressed by the dishes and the flavors. The cuisine, a playful mix of traditional Vietnamese dishes infused with touches of the French influence on that country, represents a more upscale and refined cuisine than the quick and fast street fare that Vietnamese cuisine is usually noted for. Clay pot dishes of caramelized sea bass and prawn entrees of intense tamarind sauce open a palate of flavors that all but requires rice to be shared and enjoyed to savor the sauce.
Since its original opening, Vung Tau has expanded to three locations throughout the Bay Area, spawned related family restaurants (such as the well-regarded Tamarine in Palo Alto and the now defunct Bong Su in San Francisco), and undergone an elegant remodel. It is the perfect place to bring out of town guests or to simply bring old friends for a taste of what is truly the best cuisine in California and the South Bay.