Joe Bui gained the distinction of owning Long Island's only Vietnamese restaurant in July, when he replaced his year-old food truck, The Rolling Spring Roll, with a sit-down eatery bearing the same name. In his bright sliver of a Farmingdale storefront, he shuttles between the kitchen and dining room, both taking orders and cooking them. Much of the time, he's assisted by family members. Seasonal herbs are from the garden of his mother, Hien Bui, whom he calls his inspiration.
The spirit of the country Bui left as a child comes to life in the spirited and genuine fare that stands out amid all the Asian-fusion contenders. The namesake spring rolls, small, crisp and flavorful, are meant to be wrapped in lettuce leaves and dipped in a sweet-spicy sauce. Summer rolls -- rice paper stuffed with vegetables, shrimp, mint leaves and rice noodles -- are fresh and light, but, at times, in need of more mint and cilantro.
As soup weather approaches, the Vietnamese noodle soup called pho (pronounced "fuh") commands center stage. Both the beef and chicken versions start with deeply savory house-made broths. In the former, thin slices of beef are paired with spongy but authentically Vietnamese meatballs. And while the chicken pho features rather dry pieces of white meat, the soup is largely redeemed by the first-rate broth and noodles. Add-ins -- fresh bean sprouts, basil leaves and lime wedges -- boost the soup further. Surprisingly, pho made with a vegetable base and laced with pieces of fried tofu, works well -- a boon for vegetarians.
A sandwich superstar is the French-Vietnamese banh mi. Served on toasted French bread, the sandwich may be ordered with either lemongrass chicken, grilled beef with peanut sauce or house-made pork belly and pork sausage. Also tucked inside: fresh herbs, cucumber and pickled carrots and radishes. Think of it as comfort served with a sweet-tart-herbal explosion.
"Bun" selections are hearty one-bowl entrees featuring marinated grilled meat, poultry or fish served over rice noodles with chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, lettuce and tomatoes. (You also can get them over rice.) Best one night was moist grilled salmon with crackling skin. And while overcooking detracted somewhat from the barbecued dark meat chicken and thinly sliced short rib, once everything was mixed together, the flavors simply popped.
Dessert isn't yet an option as the restaurant continues to evolve. Even now, there's often a wait for tables. Understandable. Just try finding such food -- at such reasonable prices -- elsewhere.