If the month-old Vietnamese restaurant, Café Hà Tiên at 1032 West 103rd Street (located inside a former frozen-yogurt venue), is using a form of team-waiting to serve the patrons in its intimate purple and baby-blue dining room, it either needs a new team or a different coach. One server took our drink order, another took our food order, another cleared the appetizer plates away (long before the entrées arrived) and asked if we were ready for a check. None of the servers wrote down orders - a difficult gambit for even veteran waiters and waitresses - and I wasn't surprised when our waiter, totally flustered, came out of the kitchen and asked: "Did you order the No.12 or the No. 21?"
Because most of the dishes served on the menu here are listed by their Vietnamese names, they're also numbered for people (such as myself) who might be too reluctant to try to pronounce Thit bo xao bong xanh. Asking for No. 16 is so much more efficient for all concerned.
Despite those little annoyances, the food at restaurateur Thao Tran's tiny restaurant is quite good and crazy-cheap. A moist, perfectly grilled pork chop, marinated in fragrant lemongrass and served with a fried egg, sautéed vegetables and steamed rice, was less than eight bucks - it was delicious, too. A hefty plate of "lobster" fried rice (Tran uses Nephrops norvegicus, or langoustine, which is in the lobster family) is the same price. In fact, there's nothing on the limited but enticing menu costing more than $8.25 - and that's for the seafood noodle soup, Hu tieu do bien, with shrimp, squid, scallops and mussels.
The fast-casual-style café, which serves from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., also offers a serviceable banh mi sandwich, three versions of bun and a variety of nonalcholic beverages, including traditional Vietnamese coffee and chrysanthemum tea.