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San Jose Viet Lunch Group Repeats Nha Toi

The San Jose lunch group organized by Carb Lover came back to Nha Toi today and enjoyed the following dishes

Nem Ran Cua – Fresh Crab Spring Rolls, 2 orders
Bo Tai Chanh & side order of Tuong Gung – Raw beef salad & side order of fermented soybean & ginger sauce, 2 orders
Goi Ca Song – Raw Fish (Carp) with fresh herbs and fermented rice sauce ($22.95, one of the pricier items on the menu but a real bargain once you've tasted it)
Ca Hap, Mam Thu Cha – Steamed whole fish (rock cod?) with grated tuna sauce, herbs, noodles & rice paper for wraps ($22.95)
Mam Ruoc Hue Xao Xa Ot Thit Heo - Pork with shrimp paste, lemongrass & chiles
Suon Heo Kho – Pork spareribs simmered in claypot
Ca Phao Mam Tom Bac – Thai Eggplant with fermented shrimp sauce, 2 orders
Rau Muong Xao Chao – Water Spinach sauteed with fermented bean curd
Canh Mong Toi, Muop, Rieu Cua – Malabar spinach soup, with luffa squash and ground crab, 2 orders
Com Chay – Burnt rice with oiled scallions & fried shallots
Com Trang – White rice

We were also comped black sticky rice with coconut milk for dessert.

Total came to $189 including 20% tip.

My overall feeling was that this meal topped the other 4 past meals of mine, if that could be possible. There were a couple of small things that to me weren’t perfect. Plus this time around I think I might have ordered on the salty heavy side (in a sensory overload kind of way). I’ll let others report their experiences before I post my detailed thoughts. It was great meeting the 2 new hounds and chatting with you all!

Report of this group’s previous visit:
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

Report of most previous Nha Toi group lunch:
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

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  1. Thanks for co-organizing this lunch w/ me, Alice! I've uploaded all the photos to my KG album, but I'm having problems getting the slideshow function to work. I'll include the link anyhow, and hope that it takes care of itself in time:
    http://adobe.kodakgallery.com/Slidesh...

    Edit: Looks like the link is still not working due to some modifications w/ KG. If it's not working by tomorrow, then I'll direct link photos via photobucket.

    While the ordering may not have been as well balanced as it could have been, I was so intrigued by the dishes that I didn't really care. This is some of the most interesting food (of any cuisine) I've had the pleasure of trying. Some things are def. an acquired taste for me, but the sauces this time were so haunting. Their controlled use of fermented flavorings lends a unique element to their dishes.

    I enjoyed every dish, but particularly liked the raw fish salad, steamed fish w/ tuna sauce, and Malabar spinach soup. I'm disappointed that they didn't have eel on hand for the eel simmered in claypot w/ lemongrass and basil, but hopefully I can try that some other time. I had a glass of the soda chanh; they use fresh lemon istead of lime juice here. Vung Tau's tastes more refined and refreshing.

    Service was gracious, and the proprietress is so classy and seems to take great pride in sharing her native food. A big plus is they now have nicely printed take out menus. I notice they have pho ga w/ unborn eggs and intestines, vinegar fondue hotpot w/ beef for 2, and braised goat hotpot. Great to meet two new hounds and engage in the usual lively banter!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Carb Lover

      Ok, so I tried to upload again to KG just in case there was a glitch the first time, but the slideshow is still not working. Think it's a problem w/ a photo and not the website since other albums are working.

      So...I created a flickr photo set but am unsure of how to share photos. I'm experimenting so let's see if the link below works. The photos are kinda dark, but they give you an idea of the complexity of some of these dishes. Descriptions don't seem to come up w/ slideshow, but they are available if you roll over the thumbnail or click on the photo.

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/carblove...

    2. Thanks to Alice and CL for another wonderful lunch at Nha Toi -the raw fish salad and steamed fish were lovely but I really enjoyed the pork spareribs, righteous carmelization... The ong choy with fermented bean curd and lots of garlic and the soup with Malabar spinach and ground crab are on my list of favorites.

      But Dear CL: I am so intrigued - I haven't looked at the menu since the first visit and now you tell me that they have pho ga w/ unborn eggs - how did I miss this!!! I have been on the trail of these for ever!!! Alice, could you maybe check with them to see if they really have the unborn/young eggs; do they need it ordered in advance? I've been teased before with this but have never succeeded in getting it. Pho Ga yes, unborn eggs no... Thanks!

      1 Reply
      1. re: RWCFoodie

        Well, I missed this before because we've been spoiled by Alice doing all the pre-ordering. Not to mention they didn't have take-out menus for me to study.

        It is #29 on the take-out menu. "Pho Ga Long + Trung Non: Chicken noodle soup with chicken liver, young egg and intestines"

        Has anyone out there tried Nha Toi's version??

      2. Ok, here we go, but first... "All bow down to the fermented sauces!"

        Nem Ran Cua – Fresh Crab Spring Rolls,
        - Great flavor, but crispier would have been nice. I would order them again though.

        Bo Tai Chanh & side order of Tuong Gung – Raw beef salad & side order of fermented soybean & ginger sauce
        - amazing sauce #1. I tried it without and it was fine, but with the sauce... oh my,

        Goi Ca Song – Raw Fish (Carp) with fresh herbs and fermented rice sauce
        - amazing sauce #2. More blessed fermentation. Nice cuts of fish. Plus a lovely story from the proprietress on it's origin.

        Ca Hap, Mam Thu Cha – Steamed whole fish (rock cod?) with grated tuna sauce, herbs, noodles & rice paper for wraps ($22.95)
        - amazing sauce #3. Flavorful fish, fresh herbs, and a sauce that pulled it all together. The very talented Lambert expertly de-boned this for us. I was completely pleased with the meal after these first four dishes.

        Mam Ruoc Hue Xao Xa Ot Thit Heo - Pork with shrimp paste, lemongrass & chiles
        - seemed more evenly flavored than my first taste of this dish, and better for it. A favorite, and even tastier with the Com Chay (Burnt rice)

        Suon Heo Kho – Pork spareribs simmered in claypot
        - Too sweet for my tastes, but it evened out with rice.

        Ca Phao Mam Tom Bac – Thai Eggplant with fermented shrimp sauce,
        -Amazing sauce #4. These were pickled in vinegar, and complemented the water spinach.

        Rau Muong Xao Chao – Water Spinach sauteed with fermented bean curd
        - Delicious.

        Canh Mong Toi, Muop, Rieu Cua – Malabar spinach soup, with luffa squash and ground crab, - as good as last time. Delicate flavor, never overpowering.

        Com Chay – Burnt rice with oiled scallions & fried shallots
        - a must with Mam Ruoc Hue Xao Xa Ot Thit Heo - Pork with shrimp paste

        It was a long lunch, but so very worth the drive from SF. San Jose is now damaging my affinity for Vietnamese restaurants in SF, but that's okay. :)

        1. As one of the two new hounds to the lunch group (my wife being the other), we could hardly have picked a better occasion to join. What a fantastic meal!

          Having read the report of the previous Nha Toi visit, I was really delighted to find that the Mam Ruoc Hue Xao Xa Ot Thit Heo and Com Chay were making a return appearance. To echo pretty much everyone else, this is just one of the best things I've tasted in a long time. The intensely pungent pork combined with the burnt rice is absolutely addictive. I kept returning to little tastes of it throughout the meal and it always surprised and delighted. I can't imagine coming back (which we certainly will) and being able to resist ordering this every time.

          Among other favorites were the raw beef salad with fermented soybean & ginger sauce. (In fact, this dish made such a good impression that we immediately requested a second order.) As has been mentioned, the sauces here were just amazing and this was the first of many.

          Goi Ca Song provided another with its fermented rice sauce. The combination of the raw fish, rice sauce, variety of herbs, and crispy cracker provided wonderful contrasts in both flavor and texture. The steamed whole fish with grated tuna sauce, herbs, noodles & rice paper for wraps was not only delicious (with yet another unique sauce) but was fun to assemble as well.

          Another delight was the water spinach sauteed with fermented bean curd and garlic. This is the second group meal in a row (the first being the dim sum lunch last month at Hong Kong Saigon Seafood Harbor in Sunnyvale) where an ong choi dish that looked like simple greens turned out to be something really special.

          I also feel obligated to put in a good word for the black sticky rice and coconut milk we were comped for dessert. It made for a nice finish to a great meal.

          As has been mentioned, the proprietress (who I'm assuming is co-owner Susie Bui, who, according to a review in the Metro, is also the mother of Tony Bui, the director of the hauntingly beautiful film, "Three Seasons") was a wonderful host throughout the meal, providing information about the various dishes, giving advice on how the more elaborate ones should be eaten, and, in many cases, bringing extra dishes of those magic sauces.

          Thanks to Carb Lover for organizing this (as well as the great photo record - they sure don't look dark to me) and to Alice for ordering such a wonderful variety of dishes (definitely no complaints on the balance from us). It was great to meet so many hounds I only knew from reading posts. Can't wait for the next one.

          2 Replies
          1. re: ahclem

            I agree with ahclem, as I am his wife, and must by order of the court.

            All kidding aside, my responses were akin to his, so I do not have much to add, except what a nice group of people to share lunch with!

            There was talk above about a certain dish we didn't try, "Pho Ga Long + Trung Non: Chicken noodle soup with chicken liver, young egg and intestines" That would be challenging for me, as I don't like liver, half-grown chicken eggs, and anyone's intestines. You guys can fill yourselves up on this dish while I wait for the Mam Ruoc Hue Xao Xa Ot Thit Heo and Com Chay to arrive while the rest of you are stuffed. Yum. Mine, all mine.

            Seriously, it was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon and it got my workaholic spouse away for a day, so that can't be bad.

            Hoping to see you all again next month.

            Cathryn

            1. re: ahclem

              I agree about that mam ruoc dish accompanied by the crispy rice; it's absolutely addictive. I liked it even more this time, as the flavors seemed more balanced and less salty. I remember it as being more finely minced and cooked down last time. This is a must order everytime for me too!

              And you're right about giving due respect to the little dessert at the end. Rice was sticky but moist and not cloying. Coconut milk was a nice foil. I usually only eat two bites of a complimentary dessert after such a large meal, but I scraped my bowl clean.

              As others said, this lunch was long; we lingered for nearly 2.5 hrs. I was surprised that it didn't get more crowded, but I'm assuming they do more dinner business. While I think the food suits itself really well to family-style dining, there are def. individual main dishes on the menu like bun rieu oc, duck leg noodle soup, and rice plates. I look forward to trying some of the more standard dishes on my own visits.

            2. I would be worried by a lack of dinner crowd too. As mentioned in another posting, my brother and his friends tried to go there Friday night believing that it was open until midnight. But arriving just after 10pm, the doors were already locked and the staff were closing out the register. He figured that they close earlier on nights that are slow. Ended up across the street at Chalateco which has Salvadorean and Mexican antojitos, turned out okay with meats grilled outside to order.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Melanie Wong

                What made your bro think it was open til midnight? The take-out menu doesn't list hours, but I revisited the Metro review which says hours are 9am-10pm. I'm not sure if any of the Viet places around there open past 10 (maybe Dalat just south on William?).

                Thanks for the mention of Chalateco; I've wondered about it but am usually headed elsewhere to eat.

                1. re: Carb Lover

                  The Merc has a preview of its review (to be published next weekend) up and it says open until midnight on weekends.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Oh, didn't know The Merc had reviewed it; thanks! Here's the link to the preview article for those interested: http://www.mercextra.com/pn/modules.p...

                    The fact that this same reviewer gave 3 stars to Xin Asia Bistro in Santa Cruz yet only 2.5 stars to Nha Toi confirms that we have very, very different tastes (to put it nicely). :-)

              2. Trying not to drool on my keyboard as I read... the meal sounds awesome. If I may be so bold, how does one become part of this lunch group? :)

                3 Replies
                1. re: Cooper

                  Thanks for asking; I forgot to include that for those who would like to receive an email invite for our monthly Thurs. lunches, please email me at carbloverhound@yahoo.com

                  1. re: Cooper

                    Nha Toi is awesome, you must try it.

                    To join the San Jose Viet Lunch Group, email Carb Lover, carbloverhoundATyahoo.com. There's also a Silicon Valley chowdown group that you can join -
                    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/svchowd...

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Thanks to you both for the info, will definitely sign up!

                  2. I forgot I was going to come back and post additional thoughts, and only remembered when I saw the Merc review in yesterday's paper.

                    Anyway I just wanted to say that after all these visits to Nha Toi, I think what they excel at are the dishes that are less common, ie the dishes you don't recognize on the menu because they aren't found on other menus. The more common dishes like fried spring rolls, green papaya salad, and shaking beef, are good, but not the mind-blowing tastiness that you can find here. Not that the more common dishes are bad (actually some of them like the salted fish fried rice which you can find elsewhere is very well done), but the real stars are the dishes like the mam ruoc or raw (live) fish salad that are unique or not found elsewhere.

                    It's not just the uniqueness that makes the less common dishes excellent, but you can tell the chef/cook took real care with those dishes. There's a vietnamese word called kheo which means careful, which is used to complement a cook when he/she really takes the effort to make things perfect, and the cook is kheo with the more unique dishes.

                    Oh I also wanted to add that after ordering beef salad 3 times and getting 3 different versions, my favorite version is the one we had most recently, which is #83 on the menu. The key difference is this one had raw beef, the past ones had raw veal. Also I added a side order of the tuong gung sauce to go with this beef salad; normally the tuong gung sauce comes with the raw veal salad which is #10 on the menu.