My first thought upon hearing about a place called Donuts & Noodles was the "ramnut," a short-lived Internet sensation created by the blog Culinary Bro-Down, where six packs of ramen are cooked in horchata and turned into frosted, custard-filled donuts. But locally, D&N is the rebirth, or continuation, of Vietnamese Garden, which owner Dung Tram recently sold to Lily Ho.
"Ho, who's Cambodian, says that generally, Vietnamese and Cambodian foods are very similar, and she'll keep Tram's menu intact," our Side Dish column reported in June. And actually, though Ho has added a few dishes and a breakfast service that starts at 5 a.m., almost everything about the former restaurant is intact, including the signs on the outside and the framed reviews on the inside.
It's a small, somewhat random dining room, with two tables for large parties and a single two-top, and service can be a pretty incongruous. There was a very sweet moment when our server soaked the table with icy chunks every time she refilled a cup of water, growing more flustered with every pour. (At the end, she sent us out the door with donuts by way of apology.)
In general, expect your entrées to come out one at a time, and to possibly need to prompt the receiving of menus, ordering, paying, and rounding up of to-go boxes. We also asked for some noodle-bowl toppings on the side, which resulted in twice the toppings: on the bowl and on a separate plate.
Having visited in the early morning, I can say all the things you can find at that hour can be found at any other, including a basket of airy donut holes offered gratis to a friend's young son. A thick breakfast sandwich of fried egg, ham and American cheese on a croissant set a new bar for sexy gush, considering the Niagara Falls act of its layers of eggs that, when cut, oozed golden goo. Like a pig-in-a-blanket, a klobasnek with spicy sausage comes off essentially as kid food. Seek sweetness in the hot Vietnamese coffee, creamed with condensed milk, or have some fun with a chanh muoi — juice from salted lemons with sugar and ice.
The delicious Cambodian curry tastes much like a Thai red curry, though thinner, with less cream and more edge. A bowl of Vietnamese chicken noodle soup, pho ga, included the option to supercharge it into "#1 FLU KILLER (EXTRA GINGER & PEPPER CORN)" for a dollar, which results in a clean, clear broth singing with ginger and spices, complemented by bean sprouts and bright white chicken chunks.
Flavor looms large in the bo luc lac, or "shaking beef." The Vietnamese standard normally involves cubed beef, but this bowl of strips topped in grilled onions and scallions was no less the heavyweight, delivering a sweet upswing before a huge meaty plateau — salty and gravy-like — and then smoothing with a mild citrus finish. Just incredible.
We also polished off a standard grilled-pork noodle bowl, with chunks of chewy egg roll, and a trio of long spring rolls packed with mint, lettuce, pork, shrimp and noodles. (But not the donut kind. We'll leave the ramnut to the Bro-Down.)