We’re lucky to have a vibrant Vietnamese community in the Boston area, and a number of fantastic Vietnamese restaurants. If there were one critique, it may be that they often serve mostly the same menus with little variation from place to place, and quality only determined by execution and freshness of the ingredients.
I was pleasantly surprised with a visit to Ban Toi in Dorchester this weekend. They opened this summer, and their menu is not the typical banh mi or pho/rice shop. While they do have a few pho options on their menu, don’t expect your listing of similar 15 different beef noodle pho dishes and your typical pork chop rice style of rice entrees. They emphasize the seafood here, and mollusks are everywhere on their menu! Don’t let that scare you away though, because they are delicious.
We had stir-fried river snails, stir-fried melo-melo (also called bailer- shell on their menu), grilled squid, stir-fried crawfish, and a sauteed wild boar. Our favorite items were by far the seafood dishes. Many of them were covered in a buttery garlic sauce, and sometimes with chopped roasted peanuts added in. The wild boar actually was vaguely reminiscent of a curry - it was saucy, with a yellow, coconut fragrance. It came with a fresh baguette that you broke up and dipped into the wild boar sauce. We were all so enamored with the garlic-buttery sauce though that we dipped the bread, the squid and whatever else we could to get the rest of it off the plates.
The snails and crawfish is a hands-on eating experience, so not a good spot if you don’t like a messy meal (no bibs or gloves). The menu is quite small, but the food was not what you’d find at other Vietnamese places and it was soo tasty! For me the most disappointing dishes were in fact the beef pho that my mom got. I didn’t find it to be anywhere near as good as the other dishes, and I would recommend people stick to the non-pho items.