About a month ago a friend and I were on a Vietnamese food-craving jag, and I decided to give Sunflower (8557 Research, #146) another try. I had not been there in years; not since the competing owners divorced and the hubby left to open Le Soleil, as a matter of fact.
I really hated it when Le Soleil closed down. As soon as it opened, I liked the food much better than Sunflower, thinking husband put out better food than wife. I also much preferred the generous elbow room at Le Soleil, not to mention seeing a welcoming smile and having someone treat me in a reasonably civil manner.
We made a point of going to Sunflower in the late afternoon when it would be the least crowded, and thankfully, there was only one other table there when we arrived. The menu hadn’t changed, nor had the layout; tables are crammed uncomfortably close together. If you hunker down, you can have a private conversation but you’ll also know what all your neighboring diners are discussing. You’ll get brushed up against by servers and anyone trying to get to or leave their table. The place is a space violator.
Unfortunately, the food has slipped. We started with a chicken salad (# 21) and noticed one thing right off the bat. The salad was tight-fisted with the chicken and very lightly dressed; the tiny dish of nuoc cham they brought with it was barely enough for that dish, much less the remainder of the meal. It’s fish sauce, water, sugar, and a little lime juice, for crissakes. Even though we had requested to get our four dishes in two courses, the remainder all came out at once. We were trying to avoid the clutter of three dishes, and all their side dishes coming all at once. Two tables in the joint, one of which had finished, and they couldn't accommodate that simple request.
Green bean and tofu with spicy sauce (#88) was fine; I ordered it mostly as a nod toward some vegetables. Shaking Beef (Bo Luc Lac, #34), whose flavor used to explode with every tender bite, was underwhelming. The chunks of beef were of a lesser cut and not as tender as we would have liked; the flavor punch was lacking and the cubes looked lonely on the plate. Grilled pork meatballs (Nem nuong, #14), was under-seasoned and cooked too long, making the balls dense and tough in the wrapper. Even with some herbs wrapped inside the rice papers and a shallow dunk in what little nuoc cham remained, they couldn’t be resurrected.Grilled pork meatballs (Nem nuong, #14), was under-seasoned and cooked too long, making the balls dense and tough in the wrapper. Even with some herbs wrapped inside the rice papers and a shallow dunk in what little nuoc cham remained, they couldn’t be resurrected.
If I come in and drop $40-plus for two people, the least the staff could do is smile and thank me for coming. The angry but bored expression on the woman checking us out did not change the entire time I was paying out. Luckily, I already knew we had to pay at the counter or we would probably still be sitting there. Just me, but if I had a restaurant with limited floor space, I’d be dropping checks and politely hustling people out the door so I could turn more tables. I’d also show my patrons some appreciation.
The impression I was left with is that they were allowing us to come eat their food. Back in the day, the abuse of hostile service in an uncomfortably cramped space was worth it, because their food was really good. Now, not so much.
8557 Research Blvd, #146
Sunday - Thursday, 10:00am-9:30pm; Friday & Saturday, 10:00am to 10:00pm
If you want to make your own superior shaking beef, look for a great recipe developed by Mick Vann and his buddy Art with a version of this story on Mick's Gustidude blog.
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