The attractive décor is composed entirely of furniture and lamps imported from Viet Nam. The tables are plain wood, many of them with benches for seating, although other tables have real chairs. For those against the wall, the banquette seats seem rather austere. The restaurant looks like it seats about 65, but it wasn’t at all crowded, nor has it been anytime I’ve walked by since it opened about a year ago.
Appetizers are a very reasonable $6-10, salads $6-8, noodle dishes $8-10, fried rice $5-7, and entrées $16-24. On my first visit, I wasn’t quite hungry enough for the Roast Laquered Duck ($24) or the Grilled Pork Chops ($18), with shallots and Vietnamese herbed wine. Instead, I had a one of the specials, a flavorful shrimp curry stew ($20), which was made with coconut milk, eggplant, kaffir lime leaves, carrots, and potatoes, and came with white rice. The ingredients seemed fresh, and the dish took just long enough to persuade me that it hadn’t been sitting under a heat lamp all day. I was pleased that a glass of respectable cabernet to go along with it was only $7.
On a second visit later the same week, the restaurant was, again, rather empty, although it was early (around 5:40pm). I started with the Grilled Garlic-Marinated Pork Rolls ($6), which are made with mint, pickled carrots, cucumber, rice noodles. This was not quite what I expected. The pork, carrots, and rice noodles were wrapped in a mint leaf, which was wrapped in a cucumber slice, and held together with a toothpick. It is finger food — a salad you eat with your hands. I didn’t find much pork, however.
From the entrées, the Roast Lacquered Duck called out to me. At $24, it is the restaurant’s most expensive main dish. The menu says that it’s made with “5-spice lacquer, nuoc mam glaze, and ginger sauce,” but the only spice I tasted was the ginger sauce. The duck was an ample portion, but slightly dry and a tad overcooked.
Dessert was a winner, a litchi meringue cookie with coconut sorbet ($5).
Viet Café (345 Greenwich Street between Harrison & Jay Streets, TriBeCa)