Restaurant.com dinner at Vo’s Restaurant, San Leandro

by foodhoe on January 16, 2009

277 Parrot Street, San Leandro, CA  94577 | 510.357.6600 | website

When we first moved to San Leandro, we were excited to learn that The Vo’s Vietnamese Restaurant had opened a sister location to their downtown Oakland restaurant.  But when we checked it out we thought it was overpriced, especially for the quality of the food and never returned.  However, recently I was unable to resist a promotion on Restaurant.com, which was selling $25 gift certificates for $3, and picked up a couple for our local Vo’s.  Good, I thought, now we can afford to eat there… and talked Mr. K into returning  – promising him a more affordable dinner, especially if we stuck with just ordering pho.  Boy was I wrong.

The key thing about using Restaurant.com is reading the fine print, of which there is plenty.  Once I had printed the restaurant.com certificate, I noticed that there was a $50 minimum purchase, so I thought to myself, ooh we’ll order drinks!  It was almost empty when we got there around 7 pm on a Thursday.  The decor was definitely upscale for a Vietnamese restaurant, and the lighting was pretty dim, so we decided to sit in a little nook near the front which seemed secluded and meant I could use the flash on the dishes if necessary.  The bad thing was that we were not in view of the servers so whenever we needed anything, we had to walk to the back of the restaurant to flag someone down.  We ended up having to do this more than a few times during the meal…

Normally we would just have ordered noodles, but since we now had a $50 minimum, we decided to start with Harvest Crispy Rolls Cha Gio (7) which were filled with minced chicken and shrimp, carrots, and served with the classic Vietnamese diping sauce Nuoc Cham.  I ordered a glass of wine (Ravenswood Zinfandel $8) and Mr. K got a beer ($5).

These were of the thin skin variety and resembled egg rolls more than the Vietnamese Imperial Rolls that we had anticipated and seemed pretty much like they were of the frozen variety.  But, they were hot out of the fryer and the filling was liberally dosed with garlic and black pepper and we were hungry, and so managed to finish off the plate between the two of us.  However, in the grand scale of things, these couldn’t compare with the rolls at TuLan

My interest was piqued because after reading numerous posts about a Vietnamese noodle dish called Bun Rieu on the epic and adventurous foodblog mmm-yoso!!!,  I saw Bun Reiu ($11) noodle soup with dungeness crab meat and shrimp in tomato broth on the menu.  I admit that I figured that the flavors would probably be toned down here as there were no Asians in the restaurant and it looked like most of the patrons were from a nearby retirement home (i.e. wheelchairs and walkers).  The Bun Rieu was served in a gigantic white bowl and the surface shimmered with globules of fluorescent orange spicy oil.  It smelled fantastic, and was full of big prawns, and glistening curds of cooked crab that maybe was bound with eggs and shrimp paste.  It was pungent and smelled strongly of the sea.  The flavorful broth was enhanced with fried shallots and sliced green onion and came with a fork and no spoon to sip the delicious brew.  It was heavenly and I’d actually think of coming back here to order this again.

Mr. K loves his Chicken soup ($9) Pho Ga, which he ordered with egg noodles, but received the standard rice noodles.  It was chock full of carrot slices, broccoli and mushrooms – yep they are definitely catering to the American palate with this bowl of chicken soup… Both of our noodles came with a fork, but no soup spoon and the bowls were really humongous so you couldn’t reasonably try to hold it up and sip it Japanese style…  we had to walk over to flag down our server to ask for hoisin sauce, sriracha chili sauce and soup spoons.  No greens such as basil, cilantro, mint, or bean sprouts were served either.  Mr. K liked his chicken noodle soup but said the chicken was very overcooked and tasted like it had been previously cooked, refrigerated and then boiled again as it was tough and tasteless.  Jeez, compare this to the dish he had enjoyed at Pot de Pho for the same price…

Our server advised us that beverages were not applicable for the Restaurant.com certificate, and since we were short of the $50 minimum, suggested that we order some food to go for lunch tomorrow. Mr. K thought the  Golden Tofu and Spinach ($10)  stir fried with grated ginger and garlic slices sounded good.

And also got an order of Chicken curry ($11) Cari Ga chicken with potatoes and carrots in a light yellow curry coconut base. I enjoyed that for lunch the next day, it was light and bright tasting and fragrant with lemongrass and was delicious over the steamed rice.   But I could have found the same for half the price in Chinatown…

When she dropped off our to-go packages, along with the bill, she mentioned that they only accept cash for parties using the Restaurant.com certificate.  I surreptitiously looked at the certificate I had brought along with me, and indeed this was all in the fine print, along with the fact that an 18% gratuity would be included in the total – dang, how could I have I missed so many vital details!  What burns me is that we had to spend more in order to use the $25 gift certificate, and so we in fact did not really save money…

I think you know by now that I generally am not a penny pincher and don’t mind handing over the bucks for good food, but we genuinely felt ripped off at the end of this meal.   The food was good, but the dishes were overpriced for the quality of the ingredients.  Despite this, I still consider Vo’s to be one of the decent restaurants in San Leandro, they just are trying to be more than what they are.  There’s nothing about them that ranks their food in the same category of The Slanted Door, Bong Su or even Le Cheval, other than nicer than average decor.  I don’t think I’ll be able to convince Mr. K to return, but I might go back just for that Bun Rieu and definitely won’t be using that other coupon…

I bought quite a few of the $3 restaurant.com coupons thinking it was such a deal, but after this learning experience, I think it’s cheaper for me to just take a loss on the whole thing!  I got most of them for ethnic restaurants in my neighborhood (San Leandro, Hayward, Oakland, a few odd ones in the city), so if anyone thinks they can use these gift certificates, let me know. I can send you a list…

Vo's on Urbanspoon

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Passionate Eater January 16, 2009 at 7:21 pm

Ouch, that is quite a killing that they made. I had heard about those restaurant.com coupons before, and always tried to ask the beau to use them, but he told me that they weren’t worth it (because he had used them before with some friends). We will find an affordable place (in the Tenderloin) with great bun rieu without the fine print!

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rowena January 17, 2009 at 11:26 am

It was the part about only accepting cash that bugged me the most. With the edge that the euro has over the dollar, the total doesn’t hurt my eyeballs as much — but then that would be only if I could use my plastic! Grrrr….

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Single Guy Chef January 17, 2009 at 12:23 pm

Oooh, I’m always suspicious of those dining clubs or online certificates. If it sounds good, it probably isn’t is my mantra! But I guess you live and learn huh? I was thinking maybe you could combine two $25 certificates, and then your dinner would have cost $6, but I didn’t realize it was $50 per $25 certificate. That is ouch! Vo’s reopened its original Oakland restaurant late last year after some renovations but I have yet to visit. I think I might pass based on your experience. There are just so many other good Vietnamese restaurants out there.

Single Guy Chefs last blog post..Feasting on Obama Nation

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foodhoe January 18, 2009 at 11:31 am

PE, yeah I’m a sucker like that. I shouldn’t go back either because I’ll probably end up spending too much again. I agree that the tenderloin is a better spot to forage for the good stuff, although I hear good things about the south bay too…
Rowena, with our poor dwindling dollars, trying to pinch pennies is a good thing, but this just ended up back assward…
single guy, I was kinda thinking along the same lines, but you know math is just not my strong point…

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Gastronomer January 19, 2009 at 8:09 pm

Aw Foodhoe, it pains me, and I mean pains me, to see you fork over your hard earned dollars for pricy Vietnamese food. When I lived in Oakland, I was a big, big fan of the Vietnamese food at Pho Anh Dao on 18th Street. The broken rice was my fave.

Gastronomers last blog post..Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

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Kirk January 19, 2009 at 10:18 pm

Oh my goodness FH….that’s major sticker shock! $11 for Bun Rieu…..ouch.

Kirks last blog post..Luong Hai Ky Restaurant – Mira Mesa

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Food lover April 19, 2009 at 11:01 am

Wow! Can’t believe all of the whining and crying. Boo Hoo.. I had to buy more food! I use restaurant.com certificates all the time and it is a great way to save money. I just looked at Vo’s on the site and it clearly states “Valid with a minimum food purchase of $50. 18% gratuity added on pre discount bill. Cash Only.” Someone mentioned “to good to be true”, well if you read the terms and conditions you would know exactly what you were getting into but nooooo you want to blame the restaurant. Of course there needs to be conditions or restaurants would go out of business. Hey everyone.. stop crying and start saving!!!

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foodhoe April 20, 2009 at 8:57 am

food lover, I generally don’t have a problem spending bucks for good food, this restaurant just doesn’t deliver bang for the buck. I have had a great restaurant.com experience at this restaurant where I was glad to have saved money. I feel that the food at Vo’s wasn’t as good as at Pho Hoa Ty or Pho Hoa Hiep for half the price.

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