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Showing posts with label Vietnamese food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vietnamese food. 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.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Best Ever Chicken Wings for the Best Ever Oscar Night Party



Watching the Oscars culminates a year of film releases and award shows. This year the Best Picture nominees group together films of extreme differences. Imagine a double-feature of La La Land and Hacksaw Ridge. Ok, don't imagine that.

My favorite films were Lion and Manchester By the Sea. Both were emotionally engaging and structured like thrillers.

For Sunday night I want to make a special plate of nibble-food, something that has some art and cultural diversity in its design. With that in mind, I hope you will try my use of a Vietnamese sauce to flavor the classic American bar dish, chicken wings.

Fusion how I love thee

The best aspect of fusion cuisine is when you discover a combination of seemingly unrelated flavors or components that, once you’ve paired them, make you think they have always naturally belonged together.
For me, the surprising match was an American bar food staple and an Asian comfort-food classic.
The popular Vietnamese dish pho, a giant soup bowl filled to the brim with meat and noodles, is traditionally served with a basket of fresh green vegetables and bean sprouts.. For seasoning, a dipping sauce is also provided.
As a matter of personal taste, I prefer the lighter pho ga, made with chicken, to its deeper flavored, beefy cousins. After years of eating pho ga I realized that part of my craving for the soup was because I loved the dipping sauce called nuoc cham gung.
Vietnamese pho
In the sauce, finely minced ginger and garlic mingle with flecks of dried Sichuan peppers in a vinegary-salty-sweet sauce, accentuated with lime-citrus notes.
With one of those wonderful epiphanies that happen to people who think about food a bit too much, I realized that nuoc cham gung would make a good marinade and glaze for my favorite appetizer, Buffalo wings.
Chicken on the bone, cooked on the grill or in the oven, has a moist-sweetness that is accentuated perfectly by my modified version of nuoc cham gung.
Because of its deeply flavored saltiness, fish sauce, variously called nuoc mam in Vietnam or nam pla in Thailand, is an essential ingredient in the recipe. Easily found in Asian markets, the sauce is inexpensive and lasts for years in the refrigerator.

Vietnamese Buffalo Wings

Serves 4 as an entrée or 8 as an appetizer
Ingredients
2 pounds chicken wings, washed, disjointed, wing tips discarded or reserved and used to make stock
½ cup white sugar
½ cup warm water
¼ cup fish sauce, preferably a light caramel colored brand
¼ cup white vinegar
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
4 cloves garlic minced
1 dried Chinese Szechuan pepper, stem removed, seeds and skin minced
3 tablespoons or 3-inch piece ginger, peeled, minced
2 tablespoons brown sugar, to taste
Directions
  1. In a large non-reactive bowl, dissolve the white sugar in warm water. Add the other ingredients, stir to mix well and add the chicken wings. Transfer to a sealable plastic bag and refrigerate one hour or, preferably, overnight.
  2. Remove the wings and transfer the marinade to a small saucepan, adding the brown sugar. Stir to dissolve and reduce by a half or, if you want a thicker glaze, by two-thirds over a medium flame to create a glaze that should have a good balance of sweetness and heat. Taste and adjust for more sweetness if desired by adding another tablespoon of brown sugar.
  3. The wings can either be grilled on a barbecue or baked in a 350 F oven on a rack on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil for easy clean up. Turn every 10 minutes. Cook until tender, about 30 minutes.
  4. Place the wings on a large plate of Asian noodles, steamed rice, or shredded lettuce. Just before serving, pour the hot glaze over the top.

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, April 24, 2015

The District by Hannah An, Upscale Vietnamese near the Beverly Center

The District is a few blocks from the Beverly Center. A Vietnamese restaurant with an upscale menu and a friendly bar, chef-owner Hannah An has created an airy space with a large menu featuring organic poultry and meats, fresh seafood and a great variety of vegetable dishes that will make vegans very happy.
Many of the Vietnamese restaurants that have appeared in Los Angeles over the past year have focused on modified versions of street food: pho (the richly flavored beef or chicken noodle soup) and banh mi (French baguette sandwiches with meat and pickled vegetables). Both are available at The District, but these are versions made with high-quality, fresh ingredients and they are only two of several dozen dishes on the menu.
Hannah An is the eldest daughter of the family behind Beverly Hills' Crustacean, a restaurant known for the quality of its seafood and the elegance of the dining room. The design of the District is more casual. With an outdoor patio and windows that open to the street, the restaurant is light and airy and elegant in its own way.
Recently I joined half dozen other food writers for a tasting. We ate land animals and creatures from the deep. Some were crispy fried, others were braised with a layering of flavors. We ate steamed rice, soft braised noodles, light as air spring rolls, deeply flavored soup, a salad topped with a beautiful piece of crispy-skin salmon, an excellent Vietnamese iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk and a delicious cocktail that had plenty of heat.
The menus (lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch) overlap with dishes like pho (beef and chicken) and fried calamari available any time of day. Some like cha go roll are favorites in Vietnamese restaurants. At The District, the fried rice paper rolls practically evaporate in your mouth. There is not a drop of oil on them. Inside the well-compacted roll is a mix of ground chicken and vegetables. The garlic lime dipping sauce has enough heat and sweetness to compliment the other flavors. 

The affordably priced dishes are large enough to share. For those who want to splurge for a celebration, there is fresh lobster and filet mignon.
The best dishes at The District draw on the flavor combinations that immediately tell you the chef is from Vietnam. Whether combined in a sauce or used in the dish itself, freshly squeezed lime juice, cilantro, peppers and pepper flakes, fish sauce, fresh fruit, garlic and lemon grass are used by a practiced hand that knows exactly how much is the correct amount.

We were served black cod in a clay pot. In Vietnam the fish used would probably be catfish. Flaky and moist, the cod has a silken texture familiar to anyone who has eaten a version of Morimoto's miso-black cod, a dish served at many upscale Japanese restaurants.  Chef An uses lemon grass, fish sauce and a five spices mix to put a little edge into the darkly rich sauce. Chinese broccoli and thin uncooked ginger strips add texture.  On the very bottom of the hot pot were two triangles of fresh pineapple lying in wait for anyone who needed a bit of sweet-acid to add to the already complex flavor profile of the dish.
The calamari plate was another standout. Topped with a salad of purple kale and frisee, the crinkly leaves complimented the crispy calamari. The dipping sauce, another classic Vietnamese mix of fish sauce, peppers and lime juice rounded out the flavors. A selection of cocktails accompanied the calamari. The colorful cocktails have colorful names: Hot Asian, Side Car to Vietnam, Love You Long Time and Face Down in Saigon. 
The playfully named cocktails are well-crafted drinks designed by David Shoham, a mixologist well-known in Los Angeles. The freshly squeezed juices and the mix of heat and sweet are masterful. 

My hands down favorite of those we tasted was the Hot Asian. I could describe it, but I'll let the menu do it for me, "lemon gras infused Loft and Bear Vodka, organic Vietnamese chili agave, fresh squeezed lime juice, garnished with lime zest and Vietnamese chili." Hopefully you noticed that "chili" appeared twice in the description. Topping the ice filled glass was a whole, bright red pepper for those who wanted even more heat. 
I didn't need more heat, but I would have happily consumed another Hot Asian if I had brought along a designated driver. The cocktail was that delicious.

There is so much more to be said about The District by Hannah An. We ate a great many delicious dishes -- pho bo (beef with noodles), Hannah's noodles with crispy whole lobster, shaken beef with filet mignon so tender it really did melt in the mouth, chicken curry with fava beans, peas, thickly cut red onion rings with Thai basil and a kale Caesar salad topped with a crispy-skin salmon filet. 
There are many more dishes on the menu I want to try. I love the idea of chef An's take on French onion soup that uses bone marrow and Vietnamese spices. I want to have the roasted ginger chicken, crispy tofu, braised short ribs, District salad with prawns, kale and curly endive, duck confit salad with Vietnamese herbs, roasted cauliflower with pistachios, coriander-crusted lamb and the flatbreads (chicken, pork belly and heirloom tomato-burrata). 

They all sound delicious.

The District by Hannah An, 8722 West Third Street, LA, CA 90048, 310/278-2345.  Open for lunch Monday-Friday, dinner every night and Sunday brunch.

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.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

An Anniversary Dinner at New York's Bar Bao

In New York for a brief visit, my wife and I wanted to celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary with a special dinner. After a beautiful day walking around the city, we decided to find a restaurant near where we were staying at 70th and Amsterdam. For our anniversary dinner, we wanted a restaurant where we could talk and hold hands. And we wanted a meal prepared by a chef who cared about making interesting food, but we didn't want to spend a fortune.

The New York Times said a new restaurant was opening nearby that sounded interesting, so we called. On the phone the maitre d' described the menu at Bar Bao , 100 West 82nd Street (between Columbus and Amsterdam, 212/501-0776) as a "modern take on Vietnamese food." The restaurant was opening that night and luckily a table was available.

When we arrived we were greeted warmly. That friendliness continued throughout the evening. Our waiter, Matt, accommodating both Michelle's desire to be meat free and my own unrestricted eating, suggested the Vermicelli Noodles and he would bring the pork belly on the side. Rounding out the meal, we decided on the Vegetable Summer Rolls, Sizzling Cuttlefish, Bean Curd Glazed Black Cod, and Asian Eggplant.

At the beginning of the meal, we were served complimentary glasses of a sparkling Rose to help us celebrate our anniversary and accompany the Summer Rolls. Coming from Los Angeles, I developed my love of Vietnamese food eating in Little Saigon where I have my favorites (Ha Noi and Dong Khanh). The Summer Rolls at Bar Bao were clearly better than any I'd eaten before. Even the rice paper was delicious.

The cuttlefish was grilled perfectly, the meat tender with the right amount of heat from the Salsa Verde. The eggplant with scallions had subtle layers of flavors. The vermicelli, dressed in the sweet-heat of a chili sauce, provided a balance to the cuttlefish and eggplant. And I had the added bonus of the pork belly slices, which were the best I have ever eaten.

The signature quality to the cooking at Bar Bao is the way sweet, grilled, heat, and savory flavors combine so harmoniously in each dish. The proportions of one to the other change from dish to dish, but they are always there, informing each bite. These are dishes that are about balance and surprise all at the same time.

The Bean Curd Glazed Black Cod proved the point. The fish was cooked perfectly, moist and flaky, its flavors complimented by a gingery tasting grated preserved lemon on top and the sweet-heat of the curried red pepper below.

For dessert we were offered an off-the-menu special: Kabocha-Squash Flan. The layers of flavor and texture were extraordinary. Amazingly the flan had an icy cold center, while its creaminess was contrasted by the gingko beans, lotus seeds, and candied Chinese dates. And floating like a cloud above it all was a coconut emulsion.

This is just what I expect from a good New York restaurant: using the freshest ingredients and letting a talented chef perfect and innovate a regional cuisine he or she is passionate about. Michael Bao Huynh, Bar Bao's chef, has elevated Vietnamese cooking to a new high while still preserving the flavors and techniques that are unique to Vietnam. Main Street Restaurant Partners (MSRP), the owners of Bar Bao have continued the winning Asian-Fusion formula that worked so well at Rain.

At the end of the meal, our only regret was that we were leaving town in a few days and we might not have time to visit the restaurant again.