Cam Ranh Bay (Burnsville, MN)
Vietnamese food is lighter than Chinese. The cuisine stresses fresh ingredients and lots of herbs such as cilantro, mint and basil. And because the French occupied the country, interesting French influences crept into the cooking. While flavorsome and delicious, Vietnamese is not inherently spicy. We like hot sauce --we call it "rooster sauce" because of the label -- to heat things up.
The Twin Cities are home to many, many good Vietnamese restaurants. And Cam Ranh Bay in Burnsville ranks with the best of them. There is also a location in Eden Prairie. The decor and service are above average for a family-run Asian restaurant. And the food is definitely worth the trip.
We love spring rolls and these are wonderful. Rice noodles, fresh herbs and meats are wrapped in rice paper and served cold -- not fried -- together with a peanut dipping sauce. Cam Ranh Bay sells them with barbecued pork and shrimp, shrimp alone and vegetable. But, avoid the pork; it was too tough.
A less common appetizer is the shrimp on French bread: batter-dipped deep-fried French bread topped with big tasty shrimp and green onions. Slather the accompanying peanut sauce on top for a unusually decadent and delicious start to your meal.
Another unusual highlight on the Cam Ranh Bay menu is the rice cake. This is bahn xeo, and more often translated as Vietnamese crepes or Vietnamese pancakes. It's a giant, thin rice flour and egg pancake, turned yellow by the addition of tumeric. With shrimp, pork and onions cooked inside, it's folded into a huge omelet. Served alongside it is a handful of cilantro and another of mint, and a half head of lettuce. Pull off a lettuce cup, add to it some leaves of cilantro and mint and then carve off some of the rice cake, and make yourself a wrap sandwich. Spoon on some the fish sauce. This a wonderful meal, and a typical Vietnamese breakfast or lunch.
Another of our culinary favorites is pho, the exquisite beef broth poured over rice noodles and different meats. Cam Ranh Bay might well make the best pho broth in the Cities. It's simply delicious, with none of that mild soapy flavor found in too many pho shops all around town. We tried the pho tai bo vien, soup with some sausage and with thin slices of beef cooked by the hot broth. The rice noodles here are thicker than we usually see and are easier to eat. The basil served alongside wasn't at its freshest, the only downside to this wonderful soup. Mix in the basil and bean sprouts, add lime juice and rooster sauce to taste, maybe some hoisin sauce if you want. Experiment with this dish; it's fun.
Cam Ranh Bay serves other Vietnamese specialties, as well as a wide variety of Chinese dishes. They make curries; the mock duck served with bamboo shoots, peanuts and green onions is not too hot and very good. The pan-fried noodle with chicken is a dish of rice noodles fried crispy, topped with big pieces of good fresh vegetables and chicken, all done in a slightly sweet ginger sauce.
Minus a few glitches, we liked everything we tried here. And given our affection for Vietnamese restaurants, we were especially pleased to find some dishes we didn't know and immediately loved.