Lunch for two at Nha Toi (San Jose)
My third visit to Nha Toi, and I continue to grow more and more fond of their unique Northern Viet cuisine. Each meal is a sensual experience in which I feel like the chef is speaking to me w/ every crafted dish. It's rare that I find food this personal and graceful from a restaurant kitchen.
First visit w/ lunch group:
Second visit w/ lunch group:
Only husband and I for Sun. lunch, so we ordered the cha gio w/ crab and mushrooms, a bowl of pho ga w/ young egg (in honor of RWCFoodie), and a plate of luon xao lan aka stir fried eel w/ lemongrass, coconut juice, curry, and glass noodles. Also tried one of their avocado smoothies.
The cha gio (4 for $4.50) here are small compared to most places, but they burst w/ savory flavor. The rice paper wrapper was perfectly crisp and had a nice salty bite. The nuoc cham ranks as one of my favorites at any restaurant.
When the bowl of pho ($6.25) was placed before me, I was a little worried. The broth looked so clear and pallid that I doubted it could have much flavor. Thankfully, I was very wrong. The steamy elixir was very chickeny w/ long-stewed sweetness and complex flavor carried by the sheen of fat. Some might find it too fatty, but I found it had just the right amount of lip-smacking body.
Strips of free-range chicken w/ skin and bones were tasty, but a bit dry and not as meaty as the version at Hung Ky in SF. Noodles were the thin, ropey banh pho tuoi (fresh noodles) that I buy from Lion and were nicely toothsome. I've never had young or "unborn" egg before, but this didn't do much for me. Tasted like firm, rubbery egg yolks w/ some chewy bits adjoining them, surprisingly devoid of much flavor. Assume that there must be better out there for RWCFoodie and ChowFun(Derek) to get excited about. Based on the strong showing of the broth, I must try their chao ga (chicken rice porridge) soon...
Photo of Pho Ga w/ young egg:
The eel dish ($9.95) was really unique and reminded me of the more exotic dishes we've tasted as part of the lunch series. The presentation looked familiar w/ the protein on the bottom and evenly blanketed by fried shallots, fresh herbs, and some chopped peanut. However, the flavor was quite different from anything I've tried there thus far.
The eel was cut into bite-sized chunks w/ skin and bone intact (so be prepared to chew on and spit out bone). Stir-fried w/ sweet, mild onion and glass noodles, it was cloaked in a sauce of yellow curry, lemongrass, and coconut juice w/ a slight cayenne kick. The curry reminded me of my mom's chicken curry using a Madras style blend. The bright, sweet spicing tempered any fishiness or muddiness from the eel. The tendrils of the slightly lemony "ngo om" herb complemented the flavors perfectly. Even though this had glass noodles, I'd order white rice next time to absorb that exquisite sauce.
Photo of generous portion of eel dish:
Avocado smoothie ($3) was refreshing and not too sweet or heavy. Service was attentive and quick-to-please as always, even for just a couple instead of a big table and tab. It was relatively empty for Sun. around 1pm (even after Mercury News and Metro reviews), so I hope that hounds will go and spread the word because I have an underlying dread that it might abruptly close one day, which will make me very, very sad.
Nha Toi Restaurant
480 E. William St. (btwn. 10th and 11th Streets
)San Jose, CA