San Jose Viet Lunch Series: A visit to Dalat
A group of 8 hounds paid a visit to Dalat, near SJSU in what seems to be a fairly multicultural neighborhood w/ houndly potential (address below). I was predisposed to like Dalat since I was actually born in that temperate, agricultural city of Vietnam northeast of Saigon. Having visited a few years ago, I like to describe it as the "Napa of Vietnam." Of course, terraced rice fields replace the vineyards.
I'm not really sure why the San Jose restaurant is called Dalat. I guess I was too immersed in conversation to chat it up w/ the friendly waiter, but I'll find out more about the connection next time. Anyone know? To show my further cluelessness, I don't really know what the food specialties of Dalat are besides what they grow there like coffee, strawberries, and other products. I do remember having excellent pho ga and coffee in that town though...
So here's what I do know about THIS Dalat. It's a great place for eating and going w/ a group! This was my second visit and the food and service seemed very consistent. Since the menu is heavy on individualized dishes (bun, com, noodle soups, etc), we decided to order a few appetizers to share and then each person got their bowl of choice w/ some samples exchanged here and there (we're hounds after all!). Link to my Kodak Gallery album (no registration necessary, just click on the photo):
Jellyfish, pork & baby lotus root salad
Rice paper rolls w/ shrimp and pork loin (goi cuon
)Squid salad (goi muc)
#48 Hu Tieu Dalat w/ bean thread noodle (dry style, meaning broth is served on the side)
#47 Hu Tieu Dalat w/ rice noodle (dry style)
#26 Bun Tom Thit Nuong: rice noodle w/ shrimp and grilled pork. Nuoc cham served on side. (4 orders...this was popular!)
#34 Bun Nem Nuong: rice noodle w/ pork meatball
#33 Rice noodle w/ shrimp on sugar cane and spring rolls
Unfortunately, they only serve banh cuon on the weekends, but I'm definitely going to return for that! There are many other dishes to explore as well. Hope my fellow hounds will elaborate on their personal dishes and overall impressions. I'll add more later. If anyone is interested on being on the email list for these monthly Thurs. lunches, feel free to email me at email@example.com
408 E William St
San Jose 95112
**Edited to add pricing: Prices generally range from $5-10 a dish. Total for each person w/ a generous tip for attentive service: $18pp. (LOVE the edit feature!)
RWCFoodie and I have been in sync; applauding the freshness and the wide range of salads and herbs highlighted by this cuisine at Vung Tau, My Canh, Anh Hong, White Lotus, Dalat. A quick review of CarbLover's photo albums flashes a rainbow of bright veggies on the table....as we've wrapped layers of tasty morsels in crisp greenery. Now that these vegetables have your attention, the balance is complete.
Sorry I've been so busy I couldn't reply earlier. I was expecting a good meal and got a great meal.
The goi cuon's wrapper was soft and not chewy, nicely done, and I liked the peanut dipping sauce (nuoc leo) a lot.
The banh xeo was a little too oily for my preference, and I prefer a coconut milk essence/taste/aroma which this lacked. I really liked the filling though.
Of the 2 salads, I ditto Yimster's sentiments, but I can see how the lighter jellyfish salad is also appealing. One nitpick is that the shrimp chips were on the oily side (but hey, give them credit for freshly frying these).
I really liked my hu tieu, but to me it's hard to make a bad Hu Tieu so I give Dalat props to making one with good ingredients (fat fresh tasting prawns, deveined) and a broth that wasn't boring (slightly sweet from meat/bones). One minor flaw is those fried shallots might have been store-bought (chewy/stuck to your teeth texture). I love that you can get it dry or wet style, and your choice of noodle with most of the soups on the menu. Dry is the way to go, because you get a soy/vinegar/sugar based sauce in your bowl of noodles PLUS the yummy broth on the side.
I didn't notice whether the bun dishes had a good amount of herbs. I can't tell from the photos since the herbs might be completely underneath the toppings. One reason I don't usually order bun bowls is because there's always not much herbs. Did Dalat's bun have any/a lot of herbs?
re: Alice Patis
My bun bowl had some herbs and shredded lettuce, but not alot. Could have used a little more given that it was an enormous bowl, but I could have plucked some from the herb plate or asked the waiter for more on the side. Come to think of it, it could have used more chopped peanut and some julienned cucumber, but those house pickled veggies were great!
I liked the nem nuong quite a bit. It was firm and had the texture of Chinese sausage, but wasn't as fatty or sweet. Had a slightly sour note, but I like it even a tad more sour.
Your dry hu tieu bowl looked great! I had the wet version before and it was very good; the clear broth had a very clean and umami-provoking flavor. On the sweet side, but not cloying. For those who can't read Vietnamese, the ones w/ wet or dry options have a "kho" (dry) and "nuoc" (wet) in parentheses next to them. FYI: Quang Da also offers a wet or dry option for some of their noodle soups.
I definitely want to go back to try some of the family-style options. I enjoyed eating individualized bowls for a change of pace, but it did feel strange w/ hounds around a table. We'd have to get a MUCH bigger table though...
I had one of the four orders (I didn't realize so many others had ordered it!) of Bun Tom Thit Nuong - a very good and generously-portioned version of this dish. I couldn't finish it (which is rare for me) and getting home I was very surprised at the amount of shrimp and grilled pork remaining. The flavors for both were excellent. I only had a taste of the Bahn Xeo, and enjoyed both salads. Also, this was the first time I'd seen soups with the option of ordering wet or dry. I enjoyed my taste of the broth. The Goi Cuon was just fine, but I've so many of these, I rarely order them anymore, unless in a group.
The restaurant looked like a converted diner, and I felt good and happy immediately after walking in. The quality of everything was excellent, service was attentive and friendly, and the place was busy with a lunch crowd. I was also happy with the large menu, intrigued by the larger family-style dishes (whole fishes) and will return for sure.
It was just one of those days—the anticipation of the Chow, our table's esprit de corps, an afternoon's lunching at Dalat, all-the-donuts-you can eat from Lou's, a munch on chapulines (tiny grasshoppers fried with chiles and lemons from Oaxaca) and the Hwy 280 roadtrip. I'd do it again in a blink-of-an-eye for the Tao of the Chow.
Carb Lover's photos are visual sensations and the 'hounds collective knowledge is encyclopedic with both criticism and appreciation. I relish catching the twinkle of an eye, the caustic aside, the latent sighs of pleasure.
CarbLover, RWCFoodie, and yimster's replies are dittoed. The instant we walked through the door I immediately knew it was the right place at the right time. This menu beckons further explorations. It was that unexpected bite of ginger in the squid salad that won my heart—with the long slices of tender squid.
The Banh Xeo was crisp and pork embedded, a perfect wrap. Should coconut be prominent?
Hmmm - jellyfish! what a clean taste. This must be good for you/us.
Hu Tieu Dalat. choice of noodles (bean thread, rice or egg noodles) and dry (broth on the side) or wet (one big bowl) - dry is the way to go to savor all the components; jumbo shrimp, pork, pate, fried shallots...half of this generous portion went home with me.
Come Back for More. It's the read-all-about-it on the post-Lunch post that replays every bite until it reverberates and each mouthful is a symphony.
Now, I'm ready for the next Dalat lunch foray...and a walk down the street to El Oaxaquena at 330 E. William Street. Thank You All for the excellent company and chow.
Thanks to Crablover and Alice for ordering and leading the way. I liked the squid salad a little better, because of the preserved ginger in that one. The ginger give the dish a little more bite than the jelly fish salad.
The wall had a lot of "home" style dishes. Will need to revisit soon to give them a try.
Another totally enjoyable lunch! Thanks so much for introducing me to a place that I never ever would have found on my own... We were completely surprised when we opened the door and walked in - from the outside, this quiet-looking place in a largely residential neighborhood just looked so sleepy - surprise! The place was packed with tables full of people who were all obviously enjoying their lunches!
And speaking for myself, I enjoyed my lunch immensely! I haven't had banh xeo in a very long time and I really liked it. Although as Alice said, I couldn't taste coconut at all...
The Jellyfish salad surprised me with the inclusion of baby lotus root (one of my favorites) - even though the flavors were rather subtle on this dish, I liked the fresh, herbaceousness (is that a word???) The squid salad had a much more assertive dressing and was very tasty - given the differences, I think I'd probably be more likely to order the Jellyfish salad again (that's not to mean that if the Squid Salad appeared on the table that I wouldn't eat it!) Oh, I just remembered, the shrimp chips that came with each salad tasted fresh fried - yum yum!
The serving size of the Bun Tom Thit Nuong was about twice the size of what I've been served in other places for the same price - huge prawns & loads of grilled pork, in chunks rather than the thin slices I've typically been served - good flavor, nice char grilled edges, not too fatty. A little extra fish sauce mixed into the dressing added the extra zip I wanted :-)
Nice place, friendly, helpful server - would like to return and try some more of the menu!