Vietnamese appetizers at Ba Le Bakery are half the cost and twice the portion of upscale spots

Intertwining certain foods can cause my taste buds to go berserk, like the sassy little appetizer known as goi cuon.

I’ve had an infatuation with these Vietnamese spring rolls since I first tasted them years ago at Le Colonial, but a short time ago, I stumbled across the mother of all goi cuons at Ba Le French Bakery, 5018 N. Broadway.

The epitome of freshness, goi cuons are like a delicious little soft-sandwich, served tidy and exotic like the Vietnamese, but with the class of the French thrown in for good measure.

They are essentially a rice paper pocket full of poached shrimp, green leaf lettuce, chewy rice vermicelli noodles, crunchy bean sprouts, and bright basil sprigs, although sometimes aromatic mint leaves are substituted.

When I first spotted the spring rolls in Ba Le French Bakery, I was stunned. I always thought of them as a tiny delicacy, expensive as hell and served as an appetizer only. The way Ba Le had them laid out was in a refrigerated case, three to a pack, including the spicy/sweet dipping sauce, and covered in plastic wrap, almost like a full meal.

Not only were they double the size of any others I’d ever seen, at $3.75 they were half the price. I usually paid over six bucks an order and never did they look this appetizing. I guess that’s what you get for going to the “higher end” Vietnamese restaurants. They cut down the order, the visual and the size, all the while trumping up the price tag.

Those friendly kids over at Ba Le do no such thing. They make their goi cuons daily in-house. They are clean and simple about the preparation, keeping the ingredients blissfully minimal while smartly maintaining the super-low cost.

I’ve never tasted rolls this explosively fragrant; the shrimp are cooked to perfection, the rice noodles are just soft enough, the bean sprouts have the requisite amount of crunch and the basil has a perfect bite to it. Plus, their rice paper rounds are the precise mix needed between chewy and soft, stretchy and delicate.