Vien Dong — a trek but worth it

DSC_5038Vien Dong is a Vietnamese restaurant different than the ones in the SGV I usually eat at. Instead of just concentrating on dishes like pho and bun, Vien Dong has more of a northern Vietnamese focus.  I chose to go to this restaurant because I wanted to taste what the difference between the north and south was.

Maybe not the best example of their disparity, but I ordered the fried spring rolls as an appetizer.  I have to admit that I can never resist these when they’re on any menu. The spring rolls came hot and crispy, which was a sign of good dishes to come.  The rice-wrapper used in these spring rolls fry up perfectly while still retaining a bit of their chewiness in the inner layers.

DSC_5040I saw that many people had recommended getting the sizzling plate of turmeric fish with dill and decided to follow the crowd.  The plate indeed was dangerously hot and sizzling when they brought it out.  Turmeric-yellow fish was piled high with slices of onion and many healthy sprigs of dill. This came with a plate of lettuce and fried sesame and rice chips, which I used to make something like a fish taco with crumbled chips inside and lettuce on the outside. Only a small drizzle of the potent and pungent shrimp sauce was needed to make a complete and balanced bite. Although I’m not usually a fan of pairing a mild white fish with strong spices, I really liked this dish.


There was also a noodle soup dish with a tomato-based broth and sea snails which caught my eye. Luckily, my dining companion was not squeamish at all about the snails, so we ordered a bowl to share.  The broth was red, savory goodness thanks to the earthy flavor of the snails and the small bits of crab.  The tender, free-form meatballs were the highlight of this dish and almost melted in my mouth from being so loosely packed.  The sea snails had a strong, earthy flavor as evident in the broth, but were a bit chewy, so maybe not for everyone.

I’m a fiend for a good bowl of noodle soup, so it makes me sad to think that Vien Dong is such a trek from where I am.  If it were in the SGV, I can see myself returning again and again just for the noodle soup with sea snails.

Vien Dong Restaurant
14271 Brookhurst St
Garden Grove, CA 92843
(714) 531-8253

The Slanted Door (SF)

The Slanted DoorFormer president Bill Clinton must be a gourmand because he sure likes to go to tasty restaurants.  One of these restaurants is The Slanted Door in the Ferry Building in San Francisco. I found this place after doing a googling for vegetarian-friendly eateries near the Financial district.  The menu for the restaurant made it seem Asian-inspired, which made me a bit worried after trying a few too many bad fusion spots, but the reviews were good so I went anyway.

First off, The Slanted Door is not a cheap place.  Although the waitress had mentioned that they serve family-style where everyone can share everything, the portions were single-portion-sized and the prices were high.  The good news is that most of the food is decent if you’re not too critical of their take on ethnic foods. The BF, our dining companion and I all were fairly pleased with the meal.

We started with rice flour dumplings stuffed with a chopped peanut filling.  The filling tasted like a dry, gritty peanut-butter, which isn’t bad, but is strange.  The skin of the dumplings were sticky, chewy, and satisfying. I’ve had better, but this was pretty good.  I especially liked the citrusy sauce it came with.

The Slanted DoorThe Slanted Door
The Slanted DoorThe Slanted Door
clockwise from top left:  oysters, banh xeo, stir fried tofu, turmeric fish

I ordered a half dozen oysters on a half shell, which took longer than I thought it should to arrive.  All of them were fresh and delicious with that wonderful ocean taste. Our dining companion was more of a fan of gulf oysters which I’m told is sweeter but unfortunately weren’t available at The Slanted Door.

Next, we shared the the banh xeo. I believe there’s a vegetarian version, but we ordered the one with pork and shrimp. This was cooked expertly with a hot, crispy outside. The pork was a bit dry and overdone, but the shrimp was okay.  I’ve been so used to eating the vegetarian version that I was surprised when I had a mouthful of meat in one bite.  The meat doesn’t really add much to this dish though, so I’ll probably keep getting the vegetarian variety.

The main for the omnivores was turmeric fish with rice noodles tossed in a pineappple and anchovy sauce.  The fish, halibut, was way overdone, but at least it was spiced well with turmeric and dill.  The sauce was quite tart and sharp, which I really enjoyed.  I just wish that the fish wasn’t so overcooked that it resembled dry chicken breast.  What a waste of a perfectly good piece of fish.

The BF ordered the hodo soy beanery organic tofu.  We were pleasantly surprised to find that it had two different types of tofu: baked and fried.  The dish was bold in flavor with lemongrass and soy, which is great for those who are scared of bland tofu.

We also ordered a dish of stir fried young broccoli, but it was kind of a let down. Anyone can stir fry broccoli with garlic and maggi sauce and charge $10 for it.

Now that I’ve written my thoughts down about the place, maybe it wasn’t as good as I thought.  I do remember leaving it, thinking, “Hey, that was pretty good!” but maybe it was just not as bad as I had feared it would be.  The restaurant is right on the water with large windows everywhere; perhaps the nice ambiance swayed my opinion of the food.  Overall, the restaurant didn’t try too hard to reinvent ethnic dishes but rather just tried to make good food period, which I have to give them credit for.

The Slanted Door
1 Ferry Building #3
San Francisco, CA 94111

Pho Minh — the perfect broth

Pho Minh

  • clear, light brown broth? check.
  • strong beefy flavor? check.
  • tender, thin slices of beef? check.
  • good herbs to add to broth? check.
  • slippery, chewy rice noodles? check.
  • best beef balls ever? YES!

What came as a surprise to me was how much I liked Pho Minh’s beef balls.  Usually I’m indifferent about the brownish-grey lumps of meat, but these were great.  Pho Minh doesn’t claim to make it themselves, but wherever they’re getting from, all restaurants serving pho should order the same.  They were springy and crisp and had little chewy bits inside. Okay, that might sound gross to some people, but I loved it.

I can’t believe it took me so long to go to Pho Minh.  South El Monte is a little out of the way most of the time, but man oh man, Pho Minh was worth it.  I think this is my new favorite place for a bowl of pho.  Forget waiting for a table in the crowded interior of Golden Deli. Pho Minh has you covered if what you’re craving is a beefy bowl of pho.  The broth is perfect here. I can’t wait to take my parents — my dad especially. He’s such a snob about pho broth.

Pho Minh
9646 Garvey Ave
South El Monte
CA 91733 (626) 448-8807