As Vietnamese is one of the least likely cuisines to suffer from been-sitting-a-long-time doldrums in the first place, we're not exactly sure how to feel about Bep Eatery. It's an adorable little skyway sliver with lots of floor-to-ceiling natural light, a complete study in fresh, minimalistic beauty. And so is the food they've chosen as a focus, as any Vietnamese cuisine enthusiast will can tell you. Under any circumstance, it must be prepared as a la minute as possible, for its copious fresh herbs, delicate noodles, julienned veggies slim and fine as toothpicks, and vivacious chile and fish sauces just won't tolerate anything else.
And while Bep has all of these things, the point of having them assembled in front of you, Chipotle-style with choice of add-ins, was a bit lost on us.
Choose your "Eat" (banh mi, vermicelli bowl, spring rolls, pho) your meat (grilled chicken, grilled pork, grilled steak, chicken breast, rare steak), your fillings (more on this later), and your sauce (vietnamese vinaigrette, citrus soy, peanut chili) and have-it-your-way as we as Americans are so fond of doing these days.
But here's the thing — the stuff available to go on a banh mi is the stuff that goes on a banh mi — cucumber, pickled daikon and carrot, cilantro, and jalapeño. Why yes, I'll have all of that stuff, please! In a spring roll? Lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumber, fresh herbs, and crushed peanuts? I can't imagine leaving any of them out! The only oddball that was available was pineapple, and we did. We left it out.
And while watching a guy moisten rice paper and roll spring rolls before your eyes feels kinda mesmerizing and special, the end result had structural integrity problems, with breaches in the dam before we even started eating, and when we did, it was like those inferior taco shell commercials from the '80s. Ay Caramba! It's all over your button-down! A good spring roll needs to be tight as a drum, and the chefs who roll them by the hundred at traditional places are like Cuban cigar rollers — masters of their craft.
Flavors and freshness in general were decent, though the chicken was heavy on a non-adverstised peanutty-tasting marinade, rather than the unadulterated grill-smoke flavor we prefer from old standby places like Quang. Shrimp were only slightly larger than cocktail shrimp and without the pleasant pop of perfectly cooked shellfish. Peanut-chili sauce was heavy on the peanut and the sweet, and needed evening out with lime and Sriracha.
Still, I feel like I'm quibbling. Vietnamese has been sadly elusive in the skyway, a shame, because it's a shoe-in for the executive lunch: quick, delicious, healthy, and cheap.
Does Bep stand up to any of our town's outstanding Vietnamese eateries like Pho 79, Quang, Pho Tau Bay, Jasmine Deli, or any of the bazillion zillion others in St. Paul and Minneapolis? No.
Bep is Vietnamese the way Chipotle is Mexican. Decide for yourself if that's a good thing. If you're in the skyway and in need of a pretty good lunch, it's worth a look.
100 S. Fifth St., Minneapolis