Zao Vietnamese Bistro
It would be criminal not to order the Barbecue Spareribs at Zao.
When to Go: Zao Vietnamese Bistro is located right smack in the middle of Eastwood's dining promenade, so the usual lunch and dinner peak hours mean a packed house. Despite the steady flow of diners, as walk-ins, you can still get a table at around 12:30 p.m. - but the corner spot you'll likely get won't be ideal (read: stuffy and lacking the cool breeze of the air-conditioning). If you'd like to divert from having your usual restaurant café latte, come to Zao mid-afternoon to enjoy their Café Sua Da, Vietnamese iced-coffee (Php 75), served to patrons in a drip-filter made up of black coffee and condensed milk. The catch? You'll have to wait for the last drop of coffee until you can savor the sight of having one of the servers pour the delightful caffeinated drink over ice in a separate glass.
Zao's Vietnamese Iced Coffee is strong, sweet and a refreshing reprieve
from the usual store-bought latte or Americano.
What to Eat: For starters, the Sugar Cane Shrimps (Php 325), deep fried shrimp paste enveloped in sugar cane that's wrapped in lettuce, will whet your appetite but not so much that you'll be too full to have a salad. If you're in the mood for something sweet, fresh and crunchy, then the Pomelo Salad (shrimps, chicken and fresh herbs) is a dependable choice as it is good for sharing and comes to your table with pink pomelo bits that look like they've just been peeled from the fruit's skin minutes before serving.
A refreshing and vibrantly colored Pomelo Salad.
After asking the Dining Manager, Jun, for his entrée recommendation, he suggested that I skip the heavy Pho selection (Tenderloin, Chicken, Meatball, Beef, or Seafood soup) and go straight for the Barbecue Spareribs (Php 285, good for two). If you must order one thing at Zao, it would be criminal not to order the Barbecue Spareribs. The pork bits are good enough to eat on its own, but a dip in the Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce comprised of a pinch of vinegar, lime or lemon juice, fish sauce, sugar, and water), and suddenly, there's a savory-sweet complexity that's been added to the pork, the meat of which you can cut through easily by simply prying the bits apart with your fork and spoon. What is left of the Nuoc Cham can be sprinkled over your Saigon Fried Rice (Php 215, good for sharing) served with shrimps, Chinese sausage and peas), stained a light orange, likely from a Chinese spice powder.
Jun recommends the Barbeque Spareribs - and I swear by it!
The Scene: The Eastwood branch is cozier than the Serendra location and makes you feel like no one will mind if you eat with your hands and lick your fingers one at a time. Both visits at Zao revealed a crowd that was comprised mostly of employees from nearby banks and multinational companies.
Insider's Tips: Chat it up with Jun and you'll soon find out that owners, Kay and Conrad Alcantara, also own the neighboring establishments, Pasto, and Trio; both are Italian restaurants. A dissection of your receipt (and the restaurant business card) reveals that the actual name of this bistro is "Dzao" - yes, with a "D" and pronounced "zao" - an ethnic minority group found in Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and China.
Zao Vietnamese Bistro is located at Fuente Circle, Eastwood City, Libis and the Bonifacio Global City branch is located at Unit 1C16 Serendra, Fort Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City with telephone number 856-2819.
Images taken by the writer.