Up until now, good Vietnamese restaurants have been notoriously frill-free. There's very little effort spent appeasing guests with friendly waiters or even translated menus. You go, you enjoy the kaleidoscopic medleys of rice noodles, pickled carrots, basil, and proteins wrapped in rice paper or steeped in broth, you pay, and you leave.
Well folks, it seems we're finally ready to give Vietnamese food the Panda Express treatment. Say hello to the Banh Shop.
With its first location opening this Friday in Dallas, Texas, the Banh Shop is Yum Brand's ambiguously authentic yet ambiguously new age take on all that is mainstream Vietnamese food, from banh mi sandwiches to bun (dry noodle salads) to pho. Except they don't really call it pho. Nope, they're calling it "Vietnamese-Style Chicken Soup." Gag me with an Asian soup spoon.
Everything on the menu has been neatly repackaged (read: dumbed down and hipster-ed up) for the Insta- generation. Rather than plain photos of sandwiches identified solely by their protein (beef, pork), guests will find "Grilled Steak" on the menu, along with trendy flowery descriptions like "sliced and char-grilled with honey caramel glaze" and "cucumber-cilantro aioli"; or the "Breakfast All Day," a two egg omelet sandwich with "ground seasoned pork & sliced smoked ham, with ribbon-cut cucumber & cilantro; with honey-garlic aioli."
There are also spring rolls, "Wok'd" rice and noodle bowls, pho as we've said, bun, a salad, a kind of Vietnamese eloté dressed with coconut milk, butter, and fish sauce, Vietnamese iced coffee, a ginger margarita, a passion fruit colada, and craft beers.
We should note that this is all a gripe over form — the food could taste perfectly amazing. Last month, we ventured to Yum Brand's other new Americana, travel, and fusion-inspired venture, U.S. Taco Co., and were moderately impressed. But you have to admit that when the "authentic street food" aesthetic can be commoditized by the same brand who runs Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, it's probably kind of sort of okay way, way overdone.