Tay Do report - Eden Center
Seven Chowhounds got together to test out this Eden Center newcomer. Although places come and go in Eden Center, I have a feeling this one will be around for a long time. We had an impressive meal that consisted of:
Lotus Root Salad with Boneless Duck Feet
Grilled Sausage over vermicelli
Baby Clams with black sesame rice cracker
Banh Cuon filled with minced shrimp, pork, and onions served with pork delicacy and a fried vegetable cake
Sting Ray and Banana Flower Hot Pot
Vietnamese Water Spinach sauteed with garlic
The place was hopping at lunch despit the fact that it's new. I believe soemone mentioned that one of the Four Sister's cousins is the owner. Anyway, everything was fresh and exciting. The Hot Pots are $30 and come with a mountain (and I am not kidding) of vegetable add-ins. Also, surprise, there was some pineapple in this which turned the broth into a bit of a sweet/sour concoction. On the side came a separate sauce for dipping the sting ray, a wonderful dark soy-fish-lemongrass combination.
Of the dishes that Steve mentioned, the only one that wasn't at least a B+ was the lotus root salad with boneless duck feet. The duck feet were boneless but still had cartiledge to remove and well, the texture must be an acquired one. The salad itself was quite tasty, but it appeared to be a green papaya base rather than lotus root. Lotus root salads are one of the wonderful surprises of Vietnamese cuisine (after you've reminded your table mates that the grey "hairs" are part of the root and not of human origin)--full of fresh flavors.
The grilled sausage came with rice paper skins that had been rolled up and fried as a texture contrast.
The baby clam dish isn't found at every Vietnamese place. Viet Royale and Little Saigon (outside the Eden Center on Wilson Blvd, just north of Sycamore St. and next to a Jiffy Lube) also serve this dish and I'd say it was a dead tie with Little Saigon's excellent version. At Little Saigon you'll find it in the appetizer section, here we found it in the seafood section of the menu. This is baby clams without the shells (think unchopped canned clams) sauteed with chopped onions and pork fat and served with a giant crispy black sesame studded rice cracker.
The Banh Cuon was the suggestion of our excellent server. We had initially selected a different Bahn Cuon and our server suggested this one as a more interesting variant. We'd sort of expected that "pork delicacy" meant some sort of offal, but it was actually a pressed meat.
Sting Ray and Banana Flower Hot Pot was again a menu tweak suggested by our server. She said that the fish version we were selecting wasn't special enough and that the ray/banana flower was the tastiest. We verified that the ray was fresh and not dried (that was the reason we were leaning the other way in the first place) and ordered. Our server gave us instructions about cooking and cautioned us that one of the vegetables, a stalk resembling a spongy celery and described as a taro leaf stalk, needed to be mushy before it was edible, lest it cause itching.
The water spinach is actually Vietnamese watercress and it may have been one of the first plates we cleaned. I'm not sure that this version was particularly better than any other braised greens with garlic variant we've had at other Vietnamese places, but it was darned good!
While we somehow managed to avoid all offal, the menu was just full of various organ meats and congealed blood dishes to try at a later date.
The interior is bright and cheerful, sure to inspire confidence in anyone who is a bit afraid to go anywhere but 4 Sisters.
Anyone interested can send me an e-mail, which is in my profile.
All organizing in done offline. Of course, anyone is free at anytime to organize something themselves, post the initial announcement on Chowhound, and then do the rest of the communication via PM. That's how we got started.