Mint Leaf @ Marina Village

We are still in the process of working on the kitchen, so we went out for dinner again tonight, and decided to try a new local Vietnamese place in the local supermarket/mall here in Alameda. Upon reflection, it needs much seasoning if it is going to succeed.

The restaurant, a small space to begin with, was fairly crowded when we got there, and I almost fell over trying to get into my seat at a table that was crammed in amongst several others against a wall. Luckily, several of the tables surrounding us left within a couple minutes which gave us more space, but didn’t really erase the sense that the owners were trying to cram in too many tables.

The menu was quite extensive, so we started with a couple of drinks while we decided- J had iced coffee, and I tried a lemongrass Dry soda. The taste immediately reminded me of hand soap, specifically the pink kind that comes in the container that looks like a lightbulb and had a spring-loaded dispenser at the bottom and is usually found in mall or gas/petrol station bathrooms. Later, during the meal, someone I believe was the owner or a manager, came over and offered that the soda wasn’t great, and perhaps I would like to try the kumquat flavor instead, gratis. He was right, it was much better.

The best part of the meal came first- J ordered some very interesting spring rolls that consisted of fried imperial rolls, rolled up inside fresh rice paper, with avocado, and lettuce, but oddly enough, no mint. The peanut sauce was excellent; not too sweet. It was an unusual and tasty dish, and the highlight of the meal.

Oddly enough, although listed in the menu as a starter, the beef carpaccio arrived after our main courses- I had a noodle (bun) dish, with chicken and imperial rolls tossed with some lettuce, noodles and carrots. Unfortunately, the server neglected to serve the sauce, and I had to ask the manager/owner to bring it, since the dish was dry and tasteless without it. But, once it was properly sauced, it was quite good.

The carpaccio dish was also quite nice- it had tender, thin, rare beef covered with slices of lime and chilis (which I gave to J…) and a nice combination of onions, peanuts, basil but, again, not much mint.

J ordered a sizzling chicken dish, that arrived without sizzle, but had a lot of flavor and a bit of a punch. The rice we ordered didn’t arrive until J was half done with the dish, however, and was appallingly stale.

After all that, the server offered us dessert, but after a brief discussion, we decided to skip their offerings and leave the meal at that. Unfortunately, the total price for the meal, with tip, came to just over $52. Even worse, we both left feeling hungry, something inexcusable after spending that much money and having appetizers and main courses.

We’ve spent some time since then thinking about how much a turn with Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares would help keep this place from going under as rapidly as we are predicting if their service, prices and portions continue being this unappealing. Pity, the food is pretty good, but we’re not even interested in take out, unless things change drastically. Le Cheval is still leaps and bounds better than this place.

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