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Chowdown at Lotus Garden: Report

A motley crew of hounds gathered last night at Lotus Garden in the Mission to share Vietnamese specialties.

We numbered 11, and the dishes we sampled included:

-banh khot
-banh xeo
-bo tai chanh (raw beef salad)
-goi ca (chicken salad)
-ga nuong vi (grilled lemongrass chicken)
-bo luc lac (shaking beef)
-cuarang muoi (roast crab vietnamese Lotus Garden style)
-tom xao lan (sauteed prawns with coconut and curry sauce and mixed vegetables)
-ca tim sot hanh (eggplant with garlic sauce)
-dau xao cu cai (green beans)
-kem chien (deep fried ice cream)
-chuoi chien & kem (fried banana with ice cream)

My fellow diners will post soon with photos and in-depth reviews of the chow.

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  1. I had a great time at the dinner, lots of delicious food. I am excited to return to Lotus Garden soon.

    Our first appetizer, the banh khot, was probably my favorite of the night. I had never had these before: little souffle/pancakes with shrimp, wrapped in lettuce w/ mint, carrots and dipped in sweet dipping sauce. These aren't on the menu, but if they are not too busy, they will make them upon request. I'm really glad I found out about these, I hope to return for more soon.

    The ban xeo looked very good, though I only tried a small bite.

    The raw beef salad and the chicken salad were both excellent....I had never had these dishes before either, and Lotus Garden did them both well. Both are served with shrimp chips.

    Grilled lemongrass chicken was grilled tableside, and the chicken has a strong and wonderful lemongrass flavor. This was also wrapped in lettuce leaves w/ cucumber, carrots, mint and dipping sauce.

    The shaking beef was good but it didn't think it was all that exciting. The sauce served with it (lemon and pepper) definitely added a nice flavor though, so I'd consider trying this again. Apparently it's possible to order 'shaking tofu' too, but it's also not on the menu. I might try this next time.

    The crab was impressive looking, garlicky and delicious. I'm looking forward to the photos. At the beginning of the meal, we watched as it was taken out of the tank.

    My other favorite of the night was the eggplant with garlic sauce....the eggplant was tender, the sauce was rich and thick but not too goopy. I'd definitely return for this too, I didn't expect to like it so much.

    Overall, a very nice place with good company. It was really nice meeting everyone and getting lots of new food tips! I'm looking forward to more chowdowns soon.

    Dave MP

    8 Replies
    1. re: Dave MP

      Thanks for the posts! I wanted to be there, but my travel schedule these past two weeks has been impossible....

      The eggplant is one of my favorites at Lotus Garden as well.

      1. re: susancinsf

        i'm kinda new to chowhound...so how do you get invited to these chowdowns?

        1. re: nicedragonboy

          Here's a link to pane's previous posting where she says to email her about a chowdown.
          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/375016

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Melanie - Do you have the link for how people can join the SF Lunch Series email list? I'm on it, but I forget how to do it! :)

            1. re: Dave MP

              Sure, the note below from "nja", the list moderator, on some of the rules of the road and responsibilities includes the link to sign up.

              "Hello everyone,

              I'm very happy to see the SF Lunch Series list getting busy again, after many months of inactivity. Since we've had lots of new folks sign up, I wanted to take the time to remind everyone what this list is about and what is expected for those who use it. Failure to follow some of the guidelines below could get you removed from the list, so please read thorougly.

              1. While this email list was originally used to plan the weekly lunches in SF Chinatown, it's now encouraged that you use it to announce any restaurant outing to which you would like other Chowhounds to attend. Though a lunch in SF is the main focus, you are welcome to use the list for events outside of SF and/or those scheduled at other times of day.

              2. Everyone is encouraged to plan their own events and use the list to invite everyone else. There is no person or committee in charge of organizing or approving the events. They only happen if you (yes, you) take the initative and plan an event. Some suggests for pulling off a good event are on the group's homepage:
              http://groups.yahoo.com/group/sflunch...

              3. Every once in a while, a commercial spammer will blast our list. I just want you all to know that I hate it as much as everyone else, and that I immediately ban the offenders. There is no need to alert me to the problem. I apologize that this happens, but it is an annoyance we have to live with to remain a public group.

              4. No-Shows are a big No-No. If you RSVP that you will be attending, please be there. If you don't show, it can result in ordering too much food, higher prices for those who do show up, delays while we wait for you to arrive, and other headaches. If you must cancel, do so ASAP and use all means available to you (e.g., Evite, email, cell phone) to inform the event organizer.

              5. In addition to providing everyone a chance to try new food, have fun, and meet new people, these group meals are a way to generate lots of useful content for the Chowhound.com boards. Your opinions are valued, important, and required. If you attend an event using this list, you are expected to contribute to the subsequent write-up on the boards.

              Finally, we're all very busy people, which means that last-minute cancellations or forgetting to post on the boards will happen to everyone from time to time. But, those who are found to habitually disregard items 4 and 5 above will be removed from this list.

              Now, get out there and eat!

              Your moderator,
              Nick"

                1. re: Dave MP

                  You're most welcome. Now let's hear from the rest of the 11 who attended the dinner --- win, lose or draw --- your opinion counts!

                  Sorry I missed this one.

      2. re: Dave MP

        I enjoyed the banh khot a lot as well, but it may have been a mistake to have been greedy and had a second one. After eating the second one, I found it a little oily and wished I'd stopped at one. I also committed a Chowhound faux pas by almost eating the first one before someone had a chance to take a picture of it! I think the regulars at Lotus Garden mentioned that this dish not on the menu.

        I think I enjoyed the raw beef salad the most, to my surprise. I eat very little red meat. This dish had aromatic, sweet flavors in it.

        Lemongrass chicken was delicious as well, and fun to build.
        The service was very friendly. I enjoyed capping off my meal with a decaf Vietnamese coffee. I like Vietnamese coffee a lot, but I usually can't sleep after having it, so a decaf version was appeciated (and tasty).

      3. The steamed sea bass, when it's available, is phenomenal and worth the $25 (!). Perectly cooked, buttery, moist, and falls apart on your fork. It's in a light black bean sauce.

        1. As for me, my favorites were the banh khot, raw beef salad, chicken salad, and lemongrass chicken. Shaking beef I liked better than Bodega Bistro's version, which has a much more wine-y flavor. To me, the banh khot is similar in quality to Yummy Yummy, with maybe a touch more coconut milk.

          A second mention of the excellent service: this was a great place to come with a large group. They were accomodating to our uncertain table size, allowed us plenty of time to study the menu, and even offered to split the check 11 ways (which was, thankfully, unnecessary).

          5 Replies
          1. re: pane

            I don't think I've ever had the chicken salad. Can you tell us a bit more about how it is made?

            1. re: susancinsf

              It was cooked, first of all, which was a pleasant surprise to everyone who may have expected an equivalent to the raw beef salad!

              Shredded steamed chicken were interspersed with chopped cabbage leaves, lots of mint (and I think cilantro) and ground peanuts. It was served alongside shrimp chips. If (rather: when) I return to LG by myself, I would certainly consider getting this as an entree.

              1. re: pane

                Ok, dumb question ... but are the shrimp chips eaten like potato chips with a sandwich ... on thieir own ... or do you pile a little salad on the chip and eat.

                1. re: rworange

                  I did the same as pane, piled the salad on the shrimp chips. Although when the salad was at the other end of the table and the shrimp chips were right next to me, I also ate some plain :) side note: When I was little, I LOVED shrimp chips. It's still exciting for me when they are served at a restaurant.

                  Dave MP

                  1. re: rworange

                    Shrimp chips can be eaten both little potato chips or as a "serving plate" for the raw beef salad or for Peking Duck skin at recent chowdown.

                    But it is best when freshly made.

                    Also do not add too much "wet" salad and you have to eat quickly otherwise they will lose it body quickly.

            2. Not dumb at all! I'm not sure which way is the 'right' way, but I piled salad on the chips and ate them that way.

              1. as vietnamese food eating vietnamese guy of 28 years, I can tell you that you are both correct. shrimp chips are great as a stand alone snack, or piled high when served with a vietnamese salad (chicken or shrimp). that's how I grew up eating it and I personally like how the two textures go together. the salads are also great with slightly crunchier toasted sesame rice crackers, known as Banh Da/Banh Trang Nuong.