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Showing posts with label Little Saigon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Little Saigon. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Old Favorites and New Discoveries in Little Saigon

Having written about Little Saigon over many years, I was looking at my last post from a year ago and realized I should update the entry. Many of my favorite restaurants have closed. To replace those, I have found others but I am sorry to see old friends depart from the Westminster culinary scene.

Certain foods cause people to become rhapsodic. Proust had his madeleines. I have pho ga. At Pho Vinh Ky, the large bowl of chicken soup and rice noodles arrives with a plate of fresh herbs and vegetables and a small bowl of dipping sauce.
Traditionally, the herbs and vegetables are added to the broth. Rau ram, ngo gai, bean sprouts, mint, Thai basil, purple perilla, a lime wedge and thick slices of serrano peppers add brightness to the flavors. I love the dipping sauce, nuoc cham gung, a mix of lime juice, dried pepper flakes, finely chopped fresh ginger and fish sauce. Everyone has their own way to eat pho. Mine is to eat the noodles first. Each spoonful flavored by the pungent, hot, salty dipping sauce.
If you haven't eaten Vietnamese food, you have missed out on one of the great Asian cuisines. Known primarily for their noodle soups, plates of barbecued meats piled high on mounds of broken rice or served in a bowl with vermicelli noodles and stir fries spiced with lemon grass, Vietnamese food has spread into the wider culinary community because of the popularity of pho (hot beef and chicken soups with noodles) and banh mi (crusty baguettes with spicy meats and pickled vegetables).With several large Vietnamese communities around the country, we are lucky to live close to Little Saigon in Orange County.

My trip to Little Saigon begins at Pho Vinh Ky with a large bowl of pho ga (chicken soup with noodles), only dark meat, and a Vietnamese iced coffee with milk. Arriving early in the morning, the restaurant is cold and mostly empty. The large window faces a small parking lot bordering busy Westminister Boulevard. A dozen Vietnamese men and women are also eating pho. Their heads bent low over the steaming bowls, chop sticks in one hand, a Chinese soup spoon in the other, they eat the more familiar, beef version of pho. 
Because we live an hour away from Garden Grove and Westminster, the epicenter of Orange County's Vietnamese community, instead of eating several dishes at one restaurant, I'll eat one dish at each of my favorite restaurants, taking home what I don’t finish and moving on to the next one. If you hadn’t guessed, that means I bring freezer packs and a small cooler for take-away because the left overs are delicious for next day-breakfast and lunch.

In between meals, I'll hunt out the best bargains at the local supermarkets. 

Here is the list of places I love going to in Little Saigon. Hope you have an afternoon to explore the area. A few weeks ago, I brought home two live Dungeness crabs from ABC (see below: a supermarket on Bolsa at Magnolia) for $5.99/lb. The shiitake mushrooms were also a bargain at $4.99/lb. at My Thuan.

RESTAURANTS

Many of the restaurants only take cash.  Most of them open for breakfast and stay open until late (which can mean 7:30am - 11:00pm; but often it means 10am - 10pm).

Pho Vinh Ky
8512 Westminster Blvd, Suite F
Westminister 92683
714/894-9309

Next to the Stater Brothers’ Market, west of Magnolia, east of Beach (Beach Blvd Exit on the Garden Grove/22 Fwy), Pho Vinh Ky has the best pho ga (chicken noodle soup) in the area. The light broth is clean tasting, the dark meat is sweet and the noodles are chewy. The interior is nondescript. The waitstaff is friendly even if they don't speak English. Besides the pho ga, the other dishes I would also recommend the spring rolls with shrimp and pork, crispy rice noodles with vegetables and tofu, BBQ pork with vermicelli, BBQ shrimp with vermicelli, the pork chop with broken rice and the BBQ pork with broken rice, topped with a fried egg.


Garlic & Chives by Kristin
Mall of Fortune Mall
9892 Westminster Ave & Brookhurst
Garden Grove, CA 92844
 714/591-5196

An upscale Vietnamese restaurant with affordable prices and an extensive menu. There are many familiar dishes on the menu like bbq pork with vermicelli and fish filet on a sizzling platter. The difference is the quality of the ingredients and presentation. Fancy enough for date night but inexpensive enough to bring the family, Garlic & Chives is one of my favorites especially because my wife loves their Grilled Fish with Turmeric and Dill. 

Brodard Restaurant
Mall of Fortune Mall
9892 Westminster Avenue
Garden Grove, CA 92844
714/530-1744

Located inside the mall behind Garlic & Chives, Brodard is an immensely popular restaurant with a large dining room in the back and a smaller dining room adjacent to the area where half a dozen cooks prepare house special rolls filled with vegetables and rice noodles with a choice of meats, shrimp or tofu. The take-out counter is almost as busy as the restaurant. I have to confess I have never eaten in the restaurant. We always eat at Garlic & Chives and I run over to Brodard to order to-go bbq pork chop with broken rice and vermicelli with crushed peanuts and grilled shrimp or vermicelli and bbq pork.

Mint Leaf - Dim Sum
Located inside My Thuan Supermarket
8900 Westminster Blvd
Westminster, CA 92683
www.mintleafoc.com

Visible through the glass doors leading into the north side of My Thuan Supermarket (see below), Mint Leaf serves a dozen dim sum as well as another dozen Chinese and Vietnamese dishes as varied as braised chicken feet and soy sauce noodles with vegetables. I always buy a serving or two of shrimp filled har gow, pork filled bao and shumai. I eat a few at one of the tables and bring the rest home for a taste treat that night.

Dim Sum - Giai Phat Food Co.
9550 Bolsa Ave. #123, 124,
Westminster, CA 92683

In a mini-mall there are a dozen other restaurants including a Chinese take out restaurant serving inexpensive, well-made dim sum.

T.P. Banh Bao 2
13067 Euclid Street
Garden Grove, CA 92843
714/539-4119

On the edge of the Vietnamese area of Garden Grove, just north of the 22 Freeway, T.P. Banh Bao 2 is tucked away in a corner of a mini-mall next to Dalat Supermarket (see below). There is usually a line of customers waiting to take home a package with a dozen bao. Serving freshly made bao with a dozen different fillings, the most popular bao is filled with ground pork. Delicious fresh, they freeze well. When re-heated, they taste almost as good as they did when they were first made.

Le Croissant Dore
9122 Bolsa Ave
Westminster, CA 92683 
714/895-3070
lecroissantdore.com

On the eastern end of a mini-mall with half a dozen small restaurants there is a French-Vietnamese bakery/restaurant called Le Croissant Dore that sells good Vietnamese style French pastries. One of the specialties of the kitchen is a bœuf bourguignon that’s spicy with unexpected heat. Served with a freshly baked baguette, customers eat in a small dining room within sight of the bakery counter or outside at half a dozen tables which are usually occupied by circles of men, talking and reading newspapers. The Vietnamese iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk is delicious but very strong.

Saigon’s Bakery
8940 Westminster Blvd
Westminster, CA 92683
714/896-8782
http://saigonsbakery.com

A few doors from My Thuan (below), Saigon's Bakery sells breads, rolls and Vietnamese pastries, drinks and sweets, which, for most items, when you buy two, the third is free. People stand in line to buy the foot-long banh mi with a dozen different fillings. The baguettes are perfectly crisp on the outside, moist and chewy on the inside.

MARKETS

There are a great many supermarkets in Little Saigon as well as Korean Markets in Garden Grove. Each one is different although they carry many of the same products. The prices are also pretty much the same, but there are notable differences between them.

My Thuan Supermarket
8900 Westminster Blvd.
Westminster CA 92683
714/899-0700

A large supermarket with excellent fresh produce, dried noodles and frozen seafood, My Thuan has better prices than most of the nearby markets. My wife loves charred octopus salad with potatoes. My Thuan sells both fresh baby octopus and large frozen octopus. The fresh seafood, poultry and meat counters have all the cuts familiar to anyone who shops in Asian markets. The quality is above average. The prices are very affordable. The fresh shiitake mushroom price is the lowest in the area.

MOM Supermarket
5111 W. Edinger Avenue (the entrance is on Euclid)
Santa Ana 92704
714/839-3939

MOM has a good fish market but while they have live seafood, the prices are better at ABC; they have a fantastic dried and fresh noodle area and great selection of Asian sauces.

ABC Supermarket
8970 Bolsa Avenue at Magnolia
Westminster 92683
714/379-6161

Great for live lobsters (usually $7.99-$8.99/lb) and Dungeness crab ($5.99-7.99/lb), they have a large selection of fish, some in live tanks, fresh and frozen. The produce section is excellent, with shiitake mushrooms, leafy vegetables, citrus, onions, aromatic herbs and garlic as well as fresh poultry (chicken and duck), beef and pork. 

Bolsa BBQ
8938 Bolsa Avenue
Westminster, CA 92683
714/903-2485

Sharing the parking lot with ABC Supermarket are a dozen other businesses, restaurants and bakeries. Bolsa BBQ sells freshly prepared whole pig, chickens, ducks and delicious bao with hardboiled egg & pork.

Dalat Supermarket
13075 Euclid Street  at the intersection of Garden Grove Blvd & the 22
Garden Grove 92843
714/638-9900

The majority of dried noodles sold in Asian markets use lye. One of the few companies to avoid using lye in their noodles is found at Dalat: Twin Rabbit Vegetarian Noodles (Mi Chay Soi Lon) Product of Vietnam - dried wheat noodles: $1.19.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

You are Busy and Hungry, What is There to Eat? An Easy to Make Pasta is the Answer with Chorizo, Green Beans, Scallions and Anchovies

Maybe you are rushed because your work day is long or you are preparing a big meal for a party of relatives who are coming the next day. Taking care of yourself is important. A well-made, hot meal on a cold, wet and windy night is essential.

One of the easiest meals to prepare is pasta which cooks al dente in about ten minutes. In that short amount of time you can make one dish that will be a full meal if you include not just sauce but lots of good vegetables and proteins.

So no excuses about being too rushed or too tired.

Cook, eat and be merry
Tonight I used what I had in the refrigerator. Luckily I had some very good ingredients. I used green beans I bought at an Asian market in Little Saigon 30 minutes south of Los Angeles International Airport. I don't know why but the green beans I buy anywhere other than an Asian market are not good. Even at farmers markets.

At any rate, I had green beans because I like to make a salt-boiled green bean salad with shallot slices charred in a carbon steel pan. That was for tomorrow night. Tonight, I used a handful of the green beans, but if I had kale, spinach, broccoli or broccolini, I would have used those. The point is to use a "green" vegetable because it helps balance the richness of the chorizo and butter (which is optional but adds a wonderful silky sweetness).
The chorizo was a doggie bag treat that I brought home from a lovely lunch at chef Jason McLeod's Ironside Fish & Oyster restaurant in San Diego's Little Italy (1654 India Street, San Diego). Several years ago I met chef McLeod when he was in charge of the kitchens at the Toronto Four Seasons when I was producing an ABC pilot. He was kind enough to let me take over a station in his kitchen so I could cook for our lead actors and my fellow producers. The experience was fun and good relief from an arduous shoot. I learned an important lesson on that show. When you get really cold, like when you have been scouting a roof-top location at night in Toronto during the winter and the wind blows across a very frozen Lake Ontario, you will find it very difficult to get warm. Not a hot bath. Not several layers of clothing could get me to stop shivering. I think I finally got warm by standing next to a fireplace and drinking a tall whiskey.

Chef McLeod and I kept in touch for several years as he moved from Toronto to Whistler and then we didn't connect again until I happened to notice he had opened Ironside Fish & Oyster in San Diego. When I saw him last week, we caught up and then my wife and I had lunch while chef went back to running a very busy kitchen.

He treated us to an amazing appetizer of sea urchin, which I love and which he is able to source locally in the waters off San Diego. We had fish and chips, which came with very good cole slaw and seafood paella, which normally includes a generous helping of sautéed crumbled chorizo. Since my wife is pescaterian, the chorizo came home with us.
Hence it's availability for the pasta.

If you don't have crumbled chorizo, use crumbled crisp bacon or any kind of Italian sausage you enjoy, but do remove the sausage from the casing so you can create a crumble when it cooks so it combines better with the sauce.

The butter is certainly optional as are the anchovies. But I would recommend both. The anchovies disappear in the sauce and reveal themselves combined with all the other flavors.

A Quick and Easy to Make Pasta with Anchovies and Chorizo

Choose whatever pasta you enjoy, but preferably a bite sized pasta like ziti, penne or bowties because they coat well.

Use homemade stock because canned and frozen stocks have a high sodium content. When you roast a chicken, boil the bones, strain and reserve the stock to freeze in pint and half pint sizes. When you make shrimp or lobster, boil the shells, strain and reserve the stock to keep in the freezer. That way you will have a ready supply of healthy broth to use for sauces, stews and soups.
If you have uncooked chorizo and sausage, remove the casing. Heat a sauté pan with a drizzle of olive oil. Crumble the chorizo or sausage with your hands as you add it to the hot pan. Further crumble the meat with a fork as the sausage cooks. Remove when the sausage is lightly browned.

If using bacon, cook 6 pieces of bacon in a large frying pan, turning frequently until browned on both sides. Remove, drain and when cooled crumble.

Serves 4

Time to prepare: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

1 box pasta, preferably De Cecco, ziti, penne or bowties
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup green beans, washed, ends trimmed, cut into 1/4" lengths
8 medium sized shiitake mushrooms, washed, ends trimmed, thin sliced
4 shallots, washed, ends trimmed, peeled, roughly chopped
6 anchovies
1 cup homemade stock made from shellfish or chicken
2/3 cup cooked, crumbled chorizo or Italian sausage or 1/2 cup crumbled crisp bacon
1 tablespoon sweet butter (optional)
1/2 cup pasta water
2 scallions, washed, ends trimmed, cut into 1/4" long sections
Sea salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne to taste (optional)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Directions:

Boil a large pot of water with kosher salt. Add the pasta and stir well. Cook approximately 10 minutes or until al dente.

While the pasta cooks, heat a large sauté or carbon steel pan on a medium flame. Add the olive oil and sauté the green beans, mushrooms and shallots until the beans are tender.

Add the anchovies. Use a fork to mash the anchovies against the bottom of the pan to break them apart.

Add stock and stir well to dissolve the anchovies. Cook and reduce the liquid by half.  Add the cooked chorizo or sausage. If using cooked bacon, do not add until just before serving to preserve the crispness.

Check the pasta. If it is al dente, get ready to strain out the water. Put a heat proof container in the sink. As you pour the pasta through a strainer, capture 1/2 cup of pasta water in the heat proof container and reserve.

Set pasta aside while you finish the sauce.

If the sauce is too thin, raise the heat and reduce the liquid. If there isn't enough sauce, add some of the pasta water and stir well. If using sweet butter, add and stir to dissolve.

Separate the individual pieces of pasta if they stick together and add to the pan.  Stir to coat with the sauce. Taste and adjust the flavor with sea salt, black pepper and cayenne (optional). Add more pasta water if you want more sauce.

Add scallions, toss well.

Serve hot with freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Old Favorites and New Discoveries in Little Saigon

Having written about Little Saigon over many years, I was looking at my last post from a year ago and realized I should update the entry. One of my favorite restaurants, Hanoi, closed and in the past year I discovered new restaurants and supermarkets I wanted to recommend.

Certain foods cause people to become rhapsodic. Proust had his madeleines. I have pho ga. At Pho Vinh Ky, the large bowl of chicken soup and rice noodles arrives with a plate of fresh herbs and vegetables and a small bowl of dipping sauce.
Traditionally, the herbs and vegetables are added to the broth. Rau ram, ngo gai, bean sprouts, mint, Thai basil, purple perilla, a lime wedge and thick slices of serrano peppers add brightness to the flavors. I love the dipping sauce, nuoc cham gung, a mix of lime juice, dried pepper flakes, finely chopped fresh ginger and fish sauce. Everyone has their own way to eat pho. Mine is to eat the noodles first. Each spoonful flavored by the pungent, hot, salty dipping sauce.
If you haven't eaten Vietnamese food, you have missed out on one of the great Asian cuisines. Known primarily for their noodle soups, plates of barbecued meats piled high on mounds of broken rice or served in a bowl with vermicelli noodles and stir fries spiced with lemon grass, Vietnamese food has spread into the wider culinary community because of the popularity of pho (hot beef and chicken soups with noodles) and banh mi (crusty baguettes with spicy meats and pickled vegetables).With several large Vietnamese communities around the country, we are lucky to live close to Little Saigon in Orange County.

My trip to Little Saigon begins at Pho Vinh Ky with a large bowl of pho ga (chicken soup with noodles), only dark meat, and a Vietnamese iced coffee with milk. Arriving early in the morning, the restaurant is cold and mostly empty. The large window faces a small parking lot bordering busy Westminister Boulevard. A dozen Vietnamese men and women are also eating pho. Their heads bent low over the steaming bowls, chop sticks in one hand, a Chinese soup spoon in the other, they eat the more familiar, beef version of pho. 
Because we live an hour away from Garden Grove and Westminster, the epicenter of Orange County's Vietnamese community, instead of eating several dishes at one restaurant, I'll eat one dish at each of my favorite restaurants, taking home what I don’t finish and moving on to the next one. If you hadn’t guessed, that means I bring freezer packs and a small cooler for take-away because the left overs are delicious for next day-breakfast and lunch.

In between meals, I'll hunt out the best bargains at the local supermarkets. 

Here is the list of places I love going to in Little Saigon. Hope you have an afternoon to explore the area. A few weeks ago, I brought home two live Dungeness crabs from ABC (see below: a supermarket on Bolsa at Magnolia) for $5.99/lb. The shiitake mushrooms were also a bargain at $4.79/lb.

RESTAURANTS:

Many of the restaurants only take cash.  Most of them open for breakfast and stay open until late (which can mean 7:30am - 11:00pm; but often it means 10am - 10pm).

Pho Vinh Ky
8512 Westminster Blvd, Suite F
Westminister 92683
714/894-9309

Next to the Stater Brothers’ Market, west of Magnolia, east of Beach (Beach Blvd Exit on the Garden Grove/22 Fwy), Pho Vinh Ky has the best pho ga (chicken noodle soup) in the area. The light broth is clean tasting, the dark meat is sweet and the noodles are chewy. The interior is nondescript. The waitstaff is friendly even if they don't speak English. Besides the pho ga, the other dishes I would also recommend the spring rolls with shrimp and pork, crispy rice noodles with vegetables and tofu, BBQ pork with vermicelli, BBQ shrimp with vermicelli, the pork chop with broken rice and the BBQ pork with broken rice, topped with a fried egg.


Vien Dong
14271 Brookhurst Street
Garden Grove, CA 92843
714/531-8253

When Hanoi closed, I needed to find a replacement quickly because my wife loved the restaurant's catfish with dill and onions that was served on a sizzling hot plate. Chả Cá Thăng Long is a staple of Vietnamese cuisine. After a good deal of research, I found the dish served at Vien Dong, a large and elegant restaurant on Brookhurst in a neighborhood dominated by car dealerships. Besides the sizzling catfish (#22), the fried spring rolls with pork (#2) is also delicious. Both dishes come with a plate of freshly prepared vermicelli and enormous plates of fresh green leaf lettuce, cilantro and Vietnamese herbs. The combination of savory, crisp, heat, sweet and citrus has to be experienced to be appreciated. Just saying they are delicious isn't enough.

Grand Chicken Rice Restaurant
9550 Bolsa Aven (Suite 11E-1)
Westminister, CA
714/531-7788

In a mini-mall, Grand Chicken Rice Restaurant, serves very good egg noodles with lemon grass chicken, tofu or vegetables. The small portions make the dishes pricey for the area, but the dishes are well-prepared.

Dim Sum - Giai Phat Food Co.
9550 Bolsa Ave. #123, 124,
Westminster, CA 92683

In the outdoor mall next to Grand Chicken Rice Restaurant, there are a dozen other restaurants including a Chinese take out restaurant serving inexpensive, well-made dim sum.

Dong Khanh
10451 Bolsa Avenue
Westminister, CA 92683
949/839-1014

The first restaurant in Little Saigon we tried a dozen years ago, Dong Khanh is still a favorite. The restaurant opens early in the morning and continues to serve well past midnight. The menu is quite large so there are many different dishes to try. I always get the lemon grass chicken with broken rice, the fried shrimp (head on, in the shell) with pickled cabbage and carrots, crispy noodles with sautéed vegetables and, when we have a large group and we have the extra money, a salt and pepper whole lobster. Dong Khanh also serves very good iced Vietnamese coffee with milk.

Le Croissant Dore
9122 Bolsa Ave
Westminster, CA 92683 (714) 895-3070
lecroissantdore.com

On the eastern end of a mini-mall with half a dozen small restaurants there is a French-Vietnamese bakery/restaurant called Le Croissant Dore that sells good Vietnamese style French pastries. One of the specialties of the kitchen is a bœuf bourguignon that’s spicy with unexpected heat. Served with a freshly baked baguette, customers eat in a small dining room within sight of the bakery counter or outside at half a dozen tables which are usually occupied by circles of men, talking and reading newspapers. The Vietnamese iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk is delicious but very strong.

Saigon’s Bakery
8940 Westminster Blvd, Westminster, CA 92683
(714) 896-8782
http://saigonsbakery.com

A few doors from My Thuan, an excellent Vietnamese supermarket, Saigon's Bakery sells breads, rolls and Vietnamese pastries, drinks and sweets, which, for most items, when you buy two, the third is free. People stand in line to buy the foot-long banh mi with a dozen different fillings. The baguettes are perfectly crisp on the outside, moist and chewy on the inside.

MARKETS

There are a great many supermarkets in Little Saigon as well as Korean Markets in Garden Grove. Each one is different although they carry many of the same products. The prices are also pretty much the same, but there are notable differences between them.

My Thuan Supermarket
8900 Westminster, Westminster CA 92683
(714) 899-0700

A large supermarket with excellent fresh produce, dried noodles and frozen seafood, My Thuan has better prices than most of the nearby markets. My wife loves charred octopus salad with potatoes. My Thuan sells both fresh baby octopus and large frozen octopus. The fresh seafood, poultry and meat counters have all the cuts familiar to anyone who shops in Asian markets. The quality is above average. The prices are very affordable.

MOM Supermarket
5111 W. Edinger Avenue (the entrance is on Euclid)
Santa Ana 92704
714/839-3939

MOM has a good fish market but while they have live seafood, the prices are better at ABC; they have a fantastic dried and fresh noodle area and great selection of Asian sauces.

ABC Supermarket
8970 Bolsa Avenue at Magnolia
Westminster 92683
714/379-6161

Great for live lobsters (usually $7.99-$8.99/lb) and Dungeness crab ($5.99-7.99/lb), they have a large selection of fish, some in live tanks, fresh and frozen. The produce section is excellent, with shiitake mushrooms, leafy vegetables, citrus, onions, aromatic herbs and garlic as well as fresh poultry (chicken and duck), beef and pork. 

Bolsa BBQ
8938 Bolsa Avenue
Westminster, CA 92683
714/903-2485

Sharing the parking lot with ABC Supermarket are a dozen other businesses, restaurants and bakeries. Bolsa BBQ sells freshly prepared whole pig, chickens, ducks and delicious bao with hardboiled egg & pork.

Dalat Supermarket
13075 Euclid Street  at the intersection of Garden Grove Blvd & the 22
Garden Grove 92843
714/638-9900

The majority of dried noodles sold in Asian markets use lye. One of the few companies to avoid using lye in their noodles is found at Dalat: Twin Rabbit Vegetarian Noodles (Mi Chay Soi Lon) Product of Vietnam - dried wheat noodles: $1.19.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Pho Ga, Lemon Grass Chicken, Vermicelli with Barbecue Pork and So Much More in Orange County's Little Saigon

Having written about Little Saigon over many years, I was looking at my last post from a year ago and realized I should update the entry. One of my favorite restaurants, Hanoi, closed and in the past year I discovered new restaurants and supermarkets I wanted to recommend.

Certain foods cause people to become rhapsodic. Proust had his madeleines. I have pho ga. At Pho Vinh Ky, the large bowl of chicken soup and rice noodles arrives with a plate of fresh herbs and vegetables and a small bowl of dipping sauce.
Traditionally, the herbs and vegetables are added to the broth. Rau ram, ngo gai, bean sprouts, mint, Thai basil, purple perilla, a lime wedge and thick slices of serrano peppers add brightness to the flavors. I love the dipping sauce, nuoc cham gung, a mix of lime juice, dried pepper flakes, finely chopped fresh ginger and fish sauce. Everyone has their own way to eat pho. Mine is to eat the noodles first. Each spoonful flavored by the pungent, hot, salty dipping sauce.
If you haven't eaten Vietnamese food, you have missed out on one of the great Asian cuisines. Known primarily for their noodle soups, plates of barbecued meats piled high on mounds of broken rice or served in a bowl with vermicelli noodles and stir fries spiced with lemon grass, Vietnamese food has spread into the wider culinary community because of the popularity of pho (hot beef and chicken soups with noodles) and banh mi (crusty baguettes with spicy meats and pickled vegetables).With several large Vietnamese communities around the country, we are lucky to live close to Little Saigon in Orange County.

My trip to Little Saigon begins at Pho Vinh Ky with a large bowl of pho ga (chicken soup with noodles), only dark meat, and a Vietnamese iced coffee with milk. Arriving early in the morning, the restaurant is cold and mostly empty. The large window faces a small parking lot bordering busy Westminister Boulevard. A dozen Vietnamese men and women are also eating pho. Their heads bent low over the steaming bowls, chop sticks in one hand, a Chinese soup spoon in the other, they eat the more familiar, beef version of pho. 
Because we live an hour away from Garden Grove and Westminster, the epicenter of Orange County's Vietnamese community, instead of eating several dishes at one restaurant, I'll eat one dish at each of my favorite restaurants, taking home what I don’t finish and moving on to the next one. If you hadn’t guessed, that means I bring freezer packs and a small cooler for take-away because the left overs are delicious for next day-breakfast and lunch.

In between meals, I'll hunt out the best bargains at the local supermarkets. 

Here is the list of places I love going to in Little Saigon. Hope you have an afternoon to explore the area. A few weeks ago, I brought home two live Dungeness crabs from ABC (see below: a supermarket on Bolsa at Magnolia) for $5.99/lb. The shiitake mushrooms were also a bargain at $4.79/lb.

RESTAURANTS:

Many of the restaurants only take cash.  Most of them open for breakfast and stay open until late (which can mean 7:30am - 11:00pm; but often it means 10am - 10pm).

Pho Vinh Ky
8512 Westminster Blvd, Suite F
Westminister 92683
714/894-9309

Next to the Stater Brothers’ Market, west of Magnolia, east of Beach (Beach Blvd Exit on the Garden Grove/22 Fwy), Pho Vinh Ky has the best pho ga (chicken noodle soup) in the area. The light broth is clean tasting, the dark meat is sweet and the noodles are chewy. The interior is nondescript. The waitstaff is friendly even if they don't speak English. Besides the pho ga, the other dishes I would also recommend the spring rolls with shrimp and pork, crispy rice noodles with vegetables and tofu, BBQ pork with vermicelli, BBQ shrimp with vermicelli, the pork chop with broken rice and the BBQ pork with broken rice, topped with a fried egg.


Vien Dong
14271 Brookhurst Street
Garden Grove, CA 92843
714/531-8253

When Hanoi closed, I needed to find a replacement quickly because my wife loved the restaurant's catfish with dill and onions that was served on a sizzling hot plate. Chả Cá Thăng Long is a staple of Vietnamese cuisine. After a good deal of research, I found the dish served at Vien Dong, a large and elegant restaurant on Brookhurst in a neighborhood dominated by car dealerships. Besides the sizzling catfish (#22), the fried spring rolls with pork (#2) is also delicious. Both dishes come with a plate of freshly prepared vermicelli and enormous plates of fresh green leaf lettuce, cilantro and Vietnamese herbs. The combination of savory, crisp, heat, sweet and citrus has to be experienced to be appreciated. Just saying they are delicious isn't enough.

Grand Chicken Rice Restaurant
9550 Bolsa Aven (Suite 11E-1)
Westminister, CA
714/531-7788

In a mini-mall, Grand Chicken Rice Restaurant, serves very good egg noodles with lemon grass chicken, tofu or vegetables. The small portions make the dishes pricey for the area, but the dishes are well-prepared.

Dim Sum - Giai Phat Food Co.
9550 Bolsa Ave. #123, 124,
Westminster, CA 92683

In the outdoor mall next to Grand Chicken Rice Restaurant, there are a dozen other restaurants including a Chinese take out restaurant serving inexpensive, well-made dim sum.

Dong Khanh
10451 Bolsa Avenue
Westminister, CA 92683
949/839-1014

The first restaurant in Little Saigon we tried a dozen years ago, Dong Khanh is still a favorite. The restaurant opens early in the morning and continues to serve well past midnight. The menu is quite large so there are many different dishes to try. I always get the lemon grass chicken with broken rice, the fried shrimp (head on, in the shell) with pickled cabbage and carrots, crispy noodles with sautéed vegetables and, when we have a large group and we have the extra money, a salt and pepper whole lobster. Dong Khanh also serves very good iced Vietnamese coffee with milk.

Le Croissant Dore
9122 Bolsa Ave
Westminster, CA 92683 (714) 895-3070
lecroissantdore.com

On the eastern end of a mini-mall with half a dozen small restaurants there is a French-Vietnamese bakery/restaurant called Le Croissant Dore that sells good Vietnamese style French pastries. One of the specialties of the kitchen is a bœuf bourguignon that’s spicy with unexpected heat. Served with a freshly baked baguette, customers eat in a small dining room within sight of the bakery counter or outside at half a dozen tables which are usually occupied by circles of men, talking and reading newspapers. The Vietnamese iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk is delicious but very strong.

Saigon’s Bakery
8940 Westminster Blvd, Westminster, CA 92683
(714) 896-8782
http://saigonsbakery.com

A few doors from My Thuan, an excellent Vietnamese supermarket, Saigon's Bakery sells breads, rolls and Vietnamese pastries, drinks and sweets, which, for most items, when you buy two, the third is free. People stand in line to buy the foot-long banh mi with a dozen different fillings. The baguettes are perfectly crisp on the outside, moist and chewy on the inside.

MARKETS

There are a great many supermarkets in Little Saigon as well as Korean Markets in Garden Grove. Each one is different although they carry many of the same products. The prices are also pretty much the same, but there are notable differences between them.

My Thuan Supermarket
8900 Westminster, Westminster CA 92683
(714) 899-0700

A large supermarket with excellent fresh produce, dried noodles and frozen seafood, My Thuan has better prices than most of the nearby markets. My wife loves charred octopus salad with potatoes. My Thuan sells both fresh baby octopus and large frozen octopus. The fresh seafood, poultry and meat counters have all the cuts familiar to anyone who shops in Asian markets. The quality is above average. The prices are very affordable.

MOM Supermarket
5111 W. Edinger Avenue (the entrance is on Euclid)
Santa Ana 92704
714/839-3939

MOM has a good fish market but while they have live seafood, the prices are better at ABC; they have a fantastic dried and fresh noodle area and great selection of Asian sauces.

ABC Supermarket
8970 Bolsa Avenue at Magnolia
Westminster 92683
714/379-6161

Great for live lobsters (usually $7.99-$8.99/lb) and Dungeness crab ($5.99-7.99/lb), they have a large selection of fish, some in live tanks, fresh and frozen. The produce section is excellent, with shiitake mushrooms, leafy vegetables, citrus, onions, aromatic herbs and garlic as well as fresh poultry (chicken and duck), beef and pork. 

Bolsa BBQ
8938 Bolsa Avenue
Westminster, CA 92683
714/903-2485

Sharing the parking lot with ABC Supermarket are a dozen other businesses, restaurants and bakeries. Bolsa BBQ sells freshly prepared whole pig, chickens, ducks and delicious bao with hardboiled egg & pork.

Dalat Supermarket
13075 Euclid Street  at the intersection of Garden Grove Blvd & the 22
Garden Grove 92843
714/638-9900

The majority of dried noodles sold in Asian markets use lye. One of the few companies to avoid using lye in their noodles is found at Dalat: Twin Rabbit Vegetarian Noodles (Mi Chay Soi Lon) Product of Vietnam - dried wheat noodles: $1.19.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Nori Squares with Crab, an Easy-to-Make Appetizer and Healthy Snack

On vacation for a week in Carlsbad, we enjoyed days without a set schedule. When to get out of bed? Maybe 7:30, or maybe not until 8:30. What time for a walk on the beach? Let's see when low tide is. We slept, ate, read, watched TV and went to the movies when we felt like it.

And we had great weather. Bright sunny skies. Temperatures in the upper 60's and low 70's. We discovered new places to eat, enjoyed our favorite coffee shop--Pannikin Coffee & Tea in Leucadia/Encinitas--and bought flowering plants and three blueberry bushes--that had ripe fruit on the branches!--from a great nursery, Cedros Gardens in Solana Beach.

What a great vacation.

When we wanted to hang around the room, with our mini-refrigerator, wet bar and the 2-burner electric stove top brought from home, we made salads, soups and snacks.

A favorite was a simple and delicious snack made with nori (seaweed) from Trader Joe's, broken rice from our lunch in Little Saigon at Pho Vinh Ky and  a ripe avocado from the Santa Monica farmers market.

With summer approaching, I can recommend this healthy snack. Combined with a tossed salad and fruit for dessert, the squares of nori and their toppings make for a very delicious, refreshingly light meal.
Nori Squares with Crab, Avocado and Rice

If you don't have fresh crab, the avocado and rice topping are delicious enough. If you want crab, I'd recommend the extra effort of steaming a live one. Next best is a freshly cooked crab from a fish market, which, hopefully, cooks their own. If they don't and the crabs arrive pre-cooked before they settle down on their icy bed in the display case, ask how long ago they were cooked.

Imitation crab (actually fish cakes) and canned or frozen crab aren't good for this dish.

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 whole Dungeness crab or 2 cups crab meat
1 package of nori, Trader Joe's carries a good one
1 whole, ripe avocado
1 cup freshly cooked rice
Olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
Cayenne (optional)
1/4 cup Italian parsley, washed, pat dried, leaves only, finely chopped (optional)

Directions for cooking the crab

When you bring home the live crab, place it in the kitchen sink, splashing it with cold water to wet the outer shell.

Put 3" of tap water into a large pot. Bring to a boil on high heat. Holding the crab from the back of the shell so the claws cannot reach you, push the head of the crab into the boiling water and hold down for a minute.

This isn't an easy part of the recipe. There's no getting around the fact that the crab has to die for you to eat well. If you're leaning towards becoming a vegan, this might push you over the line, so maybe look for pre-cooked crab. But I guarantee you, freshly steamed crab is a delicious taste treat.

You don't need much water in the pot. You definitely do not want to cover the crab with water. Mostly, the heat from the small amount of water steams the crab inside its shell. The resulting flavors are sweet and undiluted.

Place a lid on the pot and let cook 5 minutes.

Use tongs to remove the crab from the pot and let cool in the sink. If you don't mind a little extra work, do not throw out the water in the pot. I'll explain why in a moment.

Once the crab is cool to the touch, tear the legs off and place in a bowl. To clean the body of the crab, hold the shell in one hand and the body in your other hand. Pull and the shell will come off easily, releasing a lot of fairly unpleasant stuff.

You will now see that the crab has an outer and inner shell.

Wash the "stuff" off the outer shell and pull the gills off the inner shell. The gills are the feathery things hanging off the shell. Discard the outer shell and gills. Thoroughly rinse clean the sink and run the disposal.

On the inner shell, there is a long triangular part. Use a flat knife to lift it up, remove and discard it. Now break the inner shell in half. Use a sharp pairing knife to slide out the deliciously sweet meat from the chambers inside the shell. You may have to break open some of the chambers, but avoid doing that as much as possible so shell fragments do not end up with the meat.

Place the meat in an air tight container and refrigerate.

You can serve the legs and make your guests do the work or you can do everyone a big favor and remove the meat from the legs yourself. Personally, I think that's the way to go.

The legs are made up of three parts. Separate them from one another. There isn't any meat in the pointy-end parts. Cracking open the legs is relatively easy with your fingers. Only the two largest pincher claws require a nut cracker.

Use one of the pointy-end parts to dig out all the meat. Place in an airtight container and refrigerate.

The meat will last for two days. Whatever you don't use for the nori squares, use the next day in a tossed green salad or in a pasta.

Now, about all those shells. If you want to make a delicious broth, throw the shells into the boiling water and simmer for 45 minutes on a medium flame. The liquid will reduce by half. Strain out all the shells and discard. Let the crab stock cool and then refrigerate or freeze in an air tight container. The stock will last for months in the freezer. Defrost to use as a base for soups, braising liquid for seafood or pasta sauce.

Preparing the nori squares

Since the nori will absorb liquid, assemble the squares just before serving.

Toss the avocado slices with a little olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and black pepper. Have the cooked rice ready and slightly warmed. The crab can be chilled or room temperature.

For each square of nori, place a thin layer of warm rice, topped with a slice of avocado and a spoonful of crab. For heat, dust lightly with cayenne. For color, sprinkle a little finely chopped Italian parsley.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Today in Carlsbad

A week's vacation in Carlsbad near Del Mar, along the coast of California, about 90 minutes south of Los Angeles.

My wife Michelle, our teenaged son, Michael, and his two football buddies, Chris and Spencer, we're spending the week in a 2-bedroom time share. Doing nothing more stressful than taking walks along the beach, watching dvds, reading, watching tv, and cooking. Michael and his friends will go surfing, see movies, and work out in the exercise room. Usually our other son, Frank, would come along, but he's backpacking with friends on a five week trip in Southeast Asia, taking a 10 day bus trip up the Vietnamese coast, staying in Tokyo for a couple of days, looking around Cambodia, and ending up in Thailand.

Michelle will spend most of her time reading novels. I'll do some work by email, but mostly I'll be cooking.

Driving south from LA on the 405, we stopped at several places along Bolsa Avenue in Little Saigon, the largest Vietnamese community in the United States, and shopped at two of the local supermarkets: ABC Supermarket and T&K Food Mart, picking up shiitaki mushrooms, shallots, flank steak, raw shrimp, oysters, duck legs, chicken breasts, chicken wings, a live Canadian dungeness crab, persimmons, and pomegranates.

At Lee's Sandwiches, one of a chain of Vietnamese-French sandwich and pastry shops, we picked up baguettes ($1.00/each), large butter croissants ($1.25/each), flaky, delicious large pork pate chaud ($1.25/each), danish pastries with custard and almonds ($1.25/each), and my absolute favorite bao/pork and egg steamed buns ($1.25/each).

Fresh out of the oven, the two foot long baguettes are hot and crusty. Eating a baguette on the way to the car is one of life's great pleasures; and it only cost one dollar.

I love shopping as much as cooking, but only if the ingredients are fresh and affordable. Little Saigon is my favorite place, because the food is great and the prices incredibly cheap. Oysters for sixty-nine cents each. Duck for $2.49/lb. Shiitaki mushrooms, $2.79/lb. Chicken breasts, $1.79/lb. Shallots, $.79/lb. The crab, $5.49/lb. You get the idea....

For lunch today we ate on the balcony overlooking the golf course with 2 large water traps. Enjoying a sunny afternoon in the middle of December reminds us why we love living in Southern California, even if the traffic in LA is grid-locked, the city too noisy and expensive, and the air quality usually "unhealthy". The weather is the best.

For lunch we had appetizers--dry cured black olives stuffed with feta and sauteed baguette rounds, 2 topped with homemade tapenade, 2 with slices of Australian cheddar cheese, 2 with sauteed sausage rounds w/ shallots and chopped mustard greens--and an arugula salad with carrots, home made croutons, pitted oil-cured black olives, French feta, fresh crab meat, and chopped Italian parsley with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. The dessert was a plate with a pomegranate and slices of persimmon.

We watched Monday Night Football (Chicago vs. the Vikings; the Bears lost), while I cooked a dinner of chicken wings with Italian sausage rounds, chopped arugula stems, potatoes, carrots, pearl onions, garlic, and shiitaki mushrooms.

Life's good when you can take some time off. Stop the grind for a few days and sleep when you need to, cook what you want, watch a game on tv, and spend time with people you love.

Tomorrow I'll write the recipes...