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San Jose Viet Lunch Group goes to Nha Toi

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Nine of us enjoyed a northern vietnamese lunch today at Nha Toi in San Jose. Here is list of dishes and prices, with photos from Carb Lover coming soon.

Goi Be Thui – Raw Beef (Veal?) Salad coated with toasted rice powder in a lemon fish sauce dressing, $8.95
Nom Du Du Bo Kho – Green Papaya Salad with beef jerky, served with soy vinegar chile sauce, $6.95
Nom Rau Muong – Mixed water spinach salad with "poor man's jellyfish" (pork skin shreds), $7.95

Bun Cha Nha Toi – Grilled pork Hanoi style with greens and noodles, 2 orders, $7.95 each
Mam Tom with Thit Luoc Heo – Poached pork belly with herbs & noodles and rice paper for wrapping, $8.95

Cua Rang Me – Dungeness Crab in tamarind sauce, $18.95

Mam Ruoc Hue Xao Xa Ot Thit Heo – Minced pork in mam ruoc, lemongrass & chiles $8.95
Ca Nuc Kho Mia – Mackerel braised in sugarcane sauce, $8.95
Canh Cha Ca Thia La – Soup with fish patties, tomatoes & dill, $7.95
Com Chien Ca Man – Fried rice with dried salted fish, $7.95
Com Chay – Crispy rice, 3 orders, $4.50 each

For dessert we were comped small bowls of sticky rice with sweet beans and coconut milk.

I forgot to ask the owner what is in mam ruoc, so I'm sorry I can't translate that dish very well. I put the discussion of what is mam ruoc in the General Board so go here if you want to discuss mam ruoc:
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

I'll let others chime in before I post my thoughts, but I want to note that the Bun Cha Nha Toi was not wholly authentic Hanoi street-style of Bun Cha. The bowl had only 2 small grilled pork patties (actually meatballs, not patties), buried under pieces of grilled pork meat, and the "broth" tasted like it was just sweet nuoc cham dressing, not broth with fish sauce. The greens accompanying it though, were authentic: shredded curls of water spinach stems, rice noodles, purple shiso, mint. Though it should've been hung cay (a spicy peppermint) instead of spearmint. Ok so the greens weren't wholly authentic. Nitpicking over. (PS- but it tasted good!

)

Nha Toi Restaurant
480 E. William St. (btw 10th and 11th Streets)
San Jose, CA
(408) 294-2733

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  1. Another tantalizing Viet lunch; thanks for organizing and pre-ordering, Alice! Such a thoughtful and unique assembly of Northern Viet dishes. Here's a link to my photos which turned out pretty good given the dim lighting: http://www.kodakgallery.com/Slideshow...

    Out of all of our lunches so far, Nha Toi ranks up there as one of my favorites. I encountered a few dishes that I've never tried before, yet there was also a deep-seeded familiarity that resonated w/ me. The burnt rice brought me back to childhood, as I was always the one in my family to request the crunchy rice at the bottom of the rice pot when it was cooked stovetop style. While it tasted fairly plain on its own, it matched perfectly w/ the pungent, salty, and oily minced pork. Made for a nice, crunchy Viet "bruschetta".

    I enjoyed all of the fresh salads w/ their interesting textures and zesty, herbal flavors. My favorite was the water spinach salad, as I've never had water spinach in that fashion before; I really appreciated the balanced seasoning of that dish. I think Vung Tau's papaya salad w/ dried beef has an edge over Nha Toi's version.

    Out of all the wonderful savory dishes that followed, the one that I was most bowled over by was the humble looking but transcendent fried rice. I rarely order fried rice in a restaurant, but the aroma that wafted in my direction as it was placed before us was intoxicating and foretold of something special to come. The rice was so tender and perfectly combined w/ other ingredients, and the dried salted fish reminded me of the transformative (is that a word?) power of anchovies. I could live on that rice for days...

    While the bun cha may not have been authentic or what you were expecting, I quite enjoyed it. Due to Melissa's kindness, I was rewarded w/ one of the pork patties, and it was delicious. The pork had some nice charring and was very moist inside. The broth was a bit too sweet, but was along the lines of a thin nuoc cham.

    The poached pork belly was good combined w/ the wonderful herbs, noodles, and that funky mam ruoc all rolled into the softened rice paper; however, it didn't have much flavor on its own. Would have liked some anise to come through.

    My least favorite dish was the tamarind crab since we all agreed that it was out of season and therefore pre-cooked and frozen at some point. Also skimpy on the body meat. The thin tamarind sauce w/ sliced yellow onion tasted good though, and I liked the heat kick that other versions don't deliver. Preferred Vung Tau's version, but maybe not a fair comparison since we ate it in season and it cost about $5 more.

    Soup broth redolent of lots of dill was tasty, although I thought it was too strong/salty for my taste and I didn't like the texture of the fish patties. I should mention that I had their ca phe sua da and thought the coffee tasted a little old and flat, definitely not as complex or smooth as Vung Tau's.

    Overall, Nha Toi delivered the goods and then some. While Northern Viet/Hanoi cuisine has the reputation of being mild and subtle compared to Southern Viet/Saigon cuisine, Nha Toi sort of defied this stereotype for me. Oodles of flavor and character in this meal. Space was nicely decorated and comfy; service was sweet and attentive; and prices were very reasonable. I can't wait for round #2!

    If anyone would like to get on the invite list for our monthly weekday (usually Thurs) SJ Viet lunch group, please email me at carbloverhound@yahoo.com

    Edited to add that husband thoroughly enjoyed himself and thought the food and company were first-rate. We ate the leftover crispy rice and minced pork w/ gusto tonight!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Carb Lover

      Doh! How could I have forgotten the salted fish fried rice - I think I had about 4 helpings, small helpings that is! :-) I can only echo your comments - this is an attractive place, the service was again as you've said, sweet and attentive. I can't wait to go back!

    2. Wow! This was a totally enjoyable lunch! Alice thank you so much for ordering for us! What a great experience! Those first bites of the salads just completely wake up the taste buds - so fresh and clean tasting, for me the Nom Rau Muong was my favorite.

      And that Mam Tom with Thit Luoc Heo – Poached pork belly - this was something I just wanted to keep eating - I don't think I've ever had the spicy shrimp paste condiment - what a great flavor!

      The Mam Ruoc Hue Xao Xa Ot Thit Heo – Minced pork in mam ruoc, lemongrass & chiles had so much flavor - I just don't have enough adjectives and I'm not eloquent enough to do these dishes justice.

      I almost forgot, the soup Canh Cha Ca Thia La – Soup with fish patties, tomatoes & dill - such a lovely broth and the fresh dill.

      All I know for sure is that I want to eat more of the dishes we had and I'd love to try more of this menu.

      I'm so looking forward to more of these lunches :-) Thanks again to Alice for ordering and Tran for organizing!

      1. Thanks to Alice and Crab Lover for ordering and organizing.

        I really liked the following:

        Raw beef or veal salad, a lot of meat with a mild favoring which allow the taste of the beef come thur

        Water spinach and "poor man's" jelly fish, pork skin instead of jelly fish, but jelly fish added to this dish may be good as a added kick

        The minced pork in lemon grass was really interesting, I may need to have a few more time to really enjoy it

        Lastly I liked the crab in sauce, taking into the fact the crab was not fresh and out of season.

        The dill fish cake soup. I not a fan of dill but this was something I liked even with dill.

        I was also nice to meet two new hounds.

        4 Replies
        1. re: yimster

          You remind me that that raw beef salad was really delicious. One of my favorite versions. It has to be noted that their homemade fried shallots in that salad were stupendous and plentiful!

          1. re: Carb Lover

            The sample of beef salad that I ate had some chewy, rubbery bits that I wasn't too fond of. Is that typical? I've had the raw beef and lemon salad at Pho 84 in Oakland and loved it, but that's more carpaccio style, not chopped like this was.

            1. re: Karen_Schaffer

              Oh, that sounds unpleasant; no rubbery bits in mine. I would say that texture is NOT typical. You'll have to try the lemon beef salad at My Canh and Vung Tau for comparison. IIRC, I liked My Canh's the best of the three. Nice to meet you, Karen!

              1. re: Carb Lover

                The beef salad at Nha Toi had long thin strips of pork belly skin (bi) that was chewy & slightly rubbery, is that what you mean? Yimster confirmed the presence of pork skin. I thought it odd since the beef salad I had there last week did not have pork skin. It added a textural contrast, but I wasn't excited by it.

        2. Another great lunch. I'm taking credit for asking Alice to order the pork dish which was pungent, cool and very different. Shame the crab wasn't better as it should have been the center piece of the meal since I quite liked the sauce.

          I also really liked the water spinach salad that was very different in texture than the crunchy/meaty salads that we usually get.

          And super bonus points for house fried shallots. I could have added a big spoonful to every dish.

          1. I'd like to join in the chorus thanking Alice and Carb_Lover for organizing this, and thanking everyone for being so welcoming to a newbie. The lunch was fun and delicious, and I learned so much listening to everyone.

            I especially like the minced pork. Someone (Alice?) commented that it's almost more like a condiment than a main dish, it's so intensely flavored. I also likee the green papaya salad with beef jerky. I've had green papaya salad before, but not with the beef jerky, which added such interesting flavor and texture. And I will gladly order the bun cha nha toi again.

            Speaking of which, I'm still trying to understand if there something in the name or description of bun cha nha toi that indicates it will be served 'deconstructed'. Or is that simply the restaurant's choice of presentation?

            Thank you again for letting me join you!

            1 Reply
            1. re: Karen_Schaffer

              I understand your curiosity about the deconstructed vs. assembled; most bun bowls that I've eaten in the US are pre-assembled w/ everything tossed together in a bowl. The only thing you add is nuoc cham and fresh herbs.

              I think bun cha is different though. I've never ordered it elsewhere, but I've usually heard of it as deconstructed. I don't know why that is compared to other bun bowls (like nem nuong, for instance).

              Here's a link you might be interested in: http://noodlepie.typepad.com/blog/200...

              Nha Toi's version def. has similarities to what's shown and discussed, and the nuoc cham broth looks and sounds similar. The meat charring wasn't quite at that level, but I'm glad they provided the rau muong curls. We have to get the fried spring rolls (nem) w/ crab next time!!

              You could always pose this more general question on the General Topics board to get more wide input...

            2. After viewing Carb Lover's slideshow, I want nearly every dish again (without the tamarind crab). I loved the Mam Tom with Thit Luoc Heo. Kudos to our fearless leaders, Carb Lover and Alice! This was another great lunch, thank you for the tasting sojourn in San Jose, Alice!

              1. Well after digesting for a while I don't have much to add except that the pork with mam ruoc, lemongrass & chiles goes down as one of the best tastes in 2006. Especially since I have not had this dish since my grandma made it about 20 years ago and have forgotten about it until now. And yes, Nathan was the one who requested it; without him we wouldn't have had it since I had no idea what it was just by reading the menu.

                I loved everything else. Even though the papaya salad was not as fluffy fresh or nicely presented as Vung Tau's, I like that Nha Toi's version came with a soy-lemon sauce, instead of what you see elsewhere which is the sweet fish-sauce based dressing.

                I was disappointed that the bun cha was not wholly authentic and the sauce too sweet, but it was still very tasty. And it seemed well-charred to me. I updated the "where to find authentic bun cha" thread separately.

                I can’t think of any misses. I won't diss the crab since we knew going in it was out of season and I liked its sauce. Maybe the fish patties in the soup, like CL I didn’t like the texture of the fish patties (too chewy). But I really liked the rest of the soup. Maybe next time, we’ll order my childhood favorite soup that I had on my first visit, the malabar spinach with mini crab patties. It would also be interesting to see how they do with the basics like Pho.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Alice Patis

                  I'm with you, girl, the soups are delicious - so next time, let's order the malabar spinach soup with mini crab patties - your childhood favorite - soon to be our fave, too, I'm sure!

                2. Is the lunch group still going on? I was bred on SoCal Vietnamese food, so I'm a little spoiled, but I'm trying to recreate my experience here in the South Bay...

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: poptisserie

                    In the first reply in this thread, Carb Lover said, "If anyone would like to get on the invite list for our monthly weekday (usually Thurs) SJ Viet lunch group, please email me at carbloverhound@yahoo.com " She has promised more in the new year, so do get in touch with her,

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                    Nha Toi Restaurant
                    460 E William St, San Jose, CA 95112