When life gave them pink slips, the Mai’s made Pho.

Turns out that within months of each other, mom, dad and daughter all got
laid off from a local technology company (along with many others) in a serious bit of downsizing. Undaunted–okay, a little daunted–the family traded in their cubicles for a small restaurant south of Rohnert Park best known for, uh, hardware superstores and Red’s Recovery Room. In other words, the west side of Cotati.

Well-hidden in the far corner of a mini-mall, Mai’s isn’t a place you just happen upon. You have to have heard about it. And word seems to be traveling fast. Popping up on Chowhound and other food blogs, their Pho is oft-lauded as among the best in the region–flavored with fragrant flavors of ginger, lemongrass, and lime. Frankly, it’s as pleasing just to smell as it is to eat.

But what makes Mai so much more pleasurable than some of BiteClub’s other Viet-faves is the atmosphere. A huge step up in ambiance from the tasty, but, noisy and inelegant Pho Vietnam, or Simply Vietnam (see review),= Mai has a polite genteelness that extends from its lemon-yellow walls and complementary sweet-salty peanuts, to the museum-like collection of Asian stringed instruments and-okay, and this I admit is weird, but even their immaculately clean bathroom. (Trust me, the restroom at Pho Vietnam is NOT a place you want to linger).

At Mai, the family hovers politely around the dining room, taking care of little details–like gently moving items around the table so you can better access your plate, or asking if you’re comfortable.

Which is all nice, but does the food stack up? Aside from the Pho ($7.50 for a small bowl), which can be ordered with tendon and tripe (a favorite of Pho-natics), the rest of the food BiteClub ordered was prepared with a sort of care and precision you don’t usually find in a busy Asian restaurant. Fresh spring rolls ($5.50) had a light touch, with layers of noodles, pork, lettuce and mint (there must be mint, or forget it), topped by tender shrimp and paper-thin rice wrappers.

Their crispy Vietnamese crepe ($8.50 and new to the menu) takes about 10 minutes to make, and is loaded with noodles, veggies, pork and shrimp that tingle the tongue with flavors of savory and sweet. To boot, Mai’s prices are comparable (and sometimes less expensive) than their more casual counterparts. The menu also offers a variety of noodle and rice noodle soups and vegetarian options.

Worth a second look: Lotus Root Salad with shredded lotus root, carrots, onions, peanuts and mint leaves and vermicelli with BBQ pork.

Chopsticks-down a solid Vietnamese eatery. Seems the Mais have found good fortune in Pho.

Mai Vietnamese Cuisine, 8492 Gravenstein Hwy, in the Apple Valley Plaza, Cotati. 707.665.9628. Open Tuesday-Sunday 11am to 8pm.