Dong Khanh 

On the plate of Reviewer No. 2

In high school, I'd frequently slip off campus to a tiny Vietnamese pho spot for lunch. With my waning desire to eat meat came a dwindling patience for ordering "just fries and a Coke" with my pals at burger joints. Those days, a plate of tofu spring rolls was the closest thing to a veggie meal that I could find in suburban Texas. Though non-meat options have greatly expanded since then, I still associate Vietnamese restaurants with vegetarian-friendly grub.

Dong Khanh, the sleepy little strip-mall Vietnamese joint on Broadway, is not one of those spots. A quick scan of the 26 specials on the lunch menu, revealed only one veggie dish among an array of Chinese staples like Mongolian beef ($7.50) and sweet and sour pork ($6.95).

Most of the soups and appetizers--like the cha gio ($7.50), deep-fried pork spring rolls, or the banh xeo ($9.25), a rice flour crepe with shrimp, pork and bean sprouts--also contained meat. Luckily, my lunch date and I spotted the tofu goi cuon ($7.95): fresh spring rolls.

Over time, I've come to judge spring rolls on the three S's: structure, snap and sauce. A proper roll should be wrapped tightly enough to handle frequent plunges into a bath of thick sauce without spilling its innards. A superior roll also needs the right amount of snap--cabbage, carrots, cilantro, mint, green onions, bean sprouts--to balance the rubbery chew of the wrapper. Finally, a winning roll requires a peanut sauce that strikes the right salty/sweet/vinegary balance. While Don Khanh's spring rolls passed the structure test, they failed on both the snap and the sauce fronts. The rolls were disappointingly bland--with only tofu, noodles and green leaf lettuce--and the accompanying salty black bean sauce didn't add anything memorable. My lunch date and I pushed the rolls aside to save room for our entrees--the mo shu shrimp ($10.25) and the spicy kung pao tofu ($8.75)--which we ordered off the dinner menu.

The mo shu shrimp, our server explained, was a pile of shredded vegetables--carrots, bean sprouts, mushrooms, onions--with bits of shrimp and egg that you scoop into crepe-like pancakes. Though the mo shu was doused in a salty, all-too-familiar Chinese stir fry sauce that leaked out the sides of the pan-crepe, it was nonetheless an enjoyable mess. The kung pao tofu was also satisfying--triangles of crispy, not-too-spongey fried tofu that poked out from a mound of broccoli, water chestnuts and mushrooms in a thick, spicy glaze.

As we filled four to-go boxes with leftovers, my date and I agreed that Dong Khanh doesn't really serve Vietnamese food, but rather old-school Americanized Asian fare. And while I'm sure a number of non-meat eaters have savored the joint's well-prepared tofu over the years, Dong Khanh just can't compete with Boise's better vegetarian menus and newer, more authentic Vietnamese spots.

--Tara Morgan is (spring) rolling with the homies.

Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about Dong Khanh.
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