One family after another with kids in tow came into Kettles Vietnamese Bistro in the Coddingtown area of Santa Rosa on a recent night.
Really? Do kids enjoy Vietnamese food that much? The answer is two-fold.
First, the menu isn't strictly Vietnamese, although most of the classic dishes are there. But there's also beef carpaccio, Korean barbecued short ribs, Thai style curry chicken, shrimp scampi, Italian-style fried calamari and a Chinese-style chicken cooked in a clay pot.
Second, the prices are modest and the portions are big, and young parents can feed themselves and a passel of kids for what you'd pay for one person at a pricier place. Add friendly if sometimes short-handed service by staff in casual clothes, and you've got a winning formula for full-bellied relaxation. The occasional toddler might let out a piercing scream from time to time, but that just made the place seem like home.
The building sits between West Steele Lane and Guerneville Road, just north of the Coddingtown Mall. Once upon a time it was a plus-sized Sizzler restaurant with two dining areas, and there's still plenty of seating.
For the kids, there's fresh-squeezed limeade and lemonade, plus the usual soft drinks. For the adults, an Asian sangria made with wine and tropical fruit juices is a pleasant quencher. Eight white wines costing from $23 to $43 and four reds from $27 to $51 a bottle are available, and every menu item has a suggested wine pairing. Featured drinks included pineapple mojitos and six craft beers on draft.
Three translucent Spring Rolls ($6.50, 2 stars), cut into six pieces, come with a mediocre, liquid peanut sauce that tasted more like bean sauce than peanuts. The rolls were plump and fresh, though, made with vermicelli rice noodles, steamed shrimp and pork, mint, lettuce and bean sprouts.
Scampi in a Blanket ($8, 2-1/2 stars), a satisfying special appetizer, consisted of four big, meaty Gulf prawns and a fresh cucumber slice, rolled in wonton wrappers and deep fried, then served with a sweet red dipping sauce.
Vietnamese noodle soups called pho tend to be enough food for a couple of average people or one extremely hungry one. Truffle Crab Noodle Soup ($12, 2-1/2 stars) was on the specials list, and it was no exception. The bowl is big, the soup a light and lovely hot broth. Truffle refers to a little splash of truffle oil, which adds nothing to this soup. Nor does the small amount of crab. But there's joy to be had in the slender rice noodles, scallions, mint, cilantro and parsley that come up when you plunge your spoon into the depths. If this isn't to your taste, there are seven other types of pho, from filet mignon to seafood.
Lime Cured Beef Carpaccio ($9, 3 stars) is a kind of beef cevich? Very thin ribbons of sweet raw beef are dipped in lime juice so the sweetness is balanced with the tang of the lime juice. The meat is sprinkled with crushed peanuts. Very nice.
If you're going to order a Banh Mi Sandwich ($7.50, 2-1/2 stars) for a child, make sure the kid loves fiery heat -#8212; or ask them to hold the jalape?s. The chopped, raw jalape?s rendered the grilled chicken sandwich spicy enough to really hurt. Also on the same baguette: fresh cucumber, cilantro, carrots, bean sprouts, a delicate sauce, and strips of grilled chicken breast.