Chowdown Report - Quang Da in San Jose
Carb Lover organized another yummy lunch for us yesterday, with 8 coming to Quang Da for Central Vietnamese cuisine. We sampled 6 different banh dishes (7 if you include the New Years Cake that Yimster brought), plus 4 other dishes.
The list of dishes and translations are below.
Banh La (also called Banh Nam) flat cakes wrapped in banana leaves made of rice flour, shrimp and pork, eaten with nuoc cham dipping sauce spooned on top
Banh Bot Loc small dumplings of opaque tapioca flour with pork and shrimp inside, dipped in nuoc cham
Banh Uot Thit Nuong steamed rice flour rolls, tightly wrapped around grilled pork, shredded lettuce, and mint, eaten with peanut-sesame dipping sauce
Banh It kep Banh Ram this is really 2 cakes on top of each other: the top is a round dumpling of sticky rice flour topped with dried shrimp powder; the bottom is a deep fried fritter made of rice flour.
Banh Beo steamed rice flour cakes topped with dried shrimp powder, ground red pork, scallions and a small bit of crunchy fried pork fat. Here, they are steamed in a small bowl, rather than the usual small dish.
Banh Cuon Nhan Thit Tien Hung steamed rice flour rolls with filling of ground pork and cloud ears, topped with thin slices of pork bologna and shredded pork lint, served with a slightly sweet nuoc cham dipping sauce that had slices of carrots and green papaya.
Mi Quang Yellow rice noodles topped with bean sprouts, shrimp, pork, lettuce, mint, shreds of banana blossom, with a small amount of crab soup underneath and topped with a black sesame rice cracker (banh da).
Goi Mit Tron, Xuc Banh Trang Jackfruit salad, mixed with ground pork, shrimp, peanuts, served with a large rice cracker so you can scoop up the salad with pieces of rice cracker.
Bun Bo Hue Spicy lemon grass beef noodle soup. Topped with a small cube of porks blood and several pieces of beef tendon, beef shank, and sliced pork. Served with a plate of bean sprouts, shredded lettuce and chopped herbs. This version was actually not spicy at all.
Com Hen Steamed rice, served with a mixture of chopped clams, minced pineapple, lettuce, fried shallots, and on the menu it says banana bud but I didnt see this; there were julienned apple slices however. You mix it all together with the sauce made with fermented shrimp paste (mam tom). A small bowl of clam broth served on the side was to be eaten separately with the clam mixture.
Our total came to $12 per person, a great deal considering we ordered 2 servings of most of the banh dishes, and 3 orders of the Banh Beo.
I think this is the first Vietnamese restaurant Ive been to in the South Bay where the nuoc cham dipping sauce was not sweet. YAY!! It was served at the beginning with the banh cakes (not the one served with banh cuon). I liked that you can actually taste the fish sauce, and that the chopped chiles (which were not the blah jalapenos) gave the sauce a hint of spiciness for when you like it mild, but plenty heat if you eat the chiles as well.
My favorite dish was the Com Hen, with the pungent taste of the shrimp sauce accenting but not overpowering the clam mixture, which was a wonderful blend of tastes and textures. Our waiter recommended this dish reluctantly because of the shrimp sauce, and we had to assure him we loved that smelly stuff.
My second favorite was the Banh Uot, because of the peanut-sesame sauce that mystified me, and because I liked the herbs in these little rolls.
In third place was the Banh Cuon, which had really great thin wrappers and good filling-to-wrapper ratio, but Im not used to the version of toppings here: the dried pork lint is unusual, which I actually liked, but there was not enough cilantro and fried shallots (were there any? I dont even remember).
I liked all of the other dishes as well, but found myself nit-picking them and comparing them to the same dishes at Bun Bo Hue #1 (site of our Chowdown in 2003). The Banh La is a good version here, but kind of small for the price. Banh Bot Loc had a perfect chewy soft texture, and was a little bland but with that perfectly non-sweet dipping sauce it was really good. Banh Beo had too much flour to topping ratio, and I think it didnt have the (requisite for me) yellow mung bean paste. Mi Quang had a somewhat bland taste in the noodle mixture (not enough herbs), but slurping the crab soup at the bottom was heavenly.
The jackfruit salad was a puzzler. We first thought they brought out the wrong dish because there was no jackfruit at all. Then I reread the menu and concluded those things that looked like chopped hearts of palm might be young jackfruit shoots. Ive never encountered this before. The salad was good, but a bit bland.
Sorry I posted such a lengthy start; I wanted get my thoughts down before I forget it all since it was somewhat a blur in my mind. Stay tuned for Carb Lovers wonderful photos and I hope the others will chime in with their thoughts. And thank you Yimster, for the Lunar New Year cake, and thank you Pia, for the peanut candies that remind me so much of the Philippines.
I personally appreciate your long narrative of the dishes, Alice...great descriptions that highlight the subtlety of these mostly new-to-me dishes. Photos are linked below, and I basically copied your descriptions for the captions. Strange thing is that I don't have a photo for the banh bot loc and don't remember ordering (or eating) it, but there were alot of things for me to keep track of and absorb.
What a fantastic lunch with great company and food! Not being that familiar w/ Hue and central Viet cuisine, I wasn't sure what to expect, but I really enjoyed all the dishes and was particularly bowled over by a few. The difference btwn. this food and what I grew up w/ and what we've tried at Vung Tau is striking, and this "exotic" element has def. hooked me in and made me want to sample more.
My favorites were the banh la (looked like a Viet tamale), banh uot thit nuong, banh cuon, and com hen (which I now realize one can order w/ bun instead). I loved the flavor imparted by the banana leaf in the banh la dish, and the rice flour cake was moist and tender, not gummy. While the banh cuon wasn't as good as my mom's fresh from the pan (I literally have eaten them one by one as she makes them), it resonated w/ me and I found the pork "lint" or ruoc and fresh baby mint very evocative. The wrapper could have been thinner IMO, but it rang bells nevertheless. I'm glad we ended on the com hen since it was by far the most pungent dish and would have overpowered the more subtle banh and sauces if eaten prior.
All the other dishes were still wonderful in their own way though, and I'd like to order a big bowl of the bun bo hue for myself sometime since I'm convinced one needs to eat the whole thing to absorb the essence of the dish. I always seem to rate the noodle dishes lower when shared by a group. I liked the round rice noodles in the bun bo hue dish, and the mildly spicy broth redolent of herbacious lemongrass was wonderful. I was least fond of the mi quang dish w/ it's wide fettucine-like noodles and subtle saucing.
Quang Da exceeded my expectations. I appreciated the well-balanced sauces and the thought behind different pairings. Their nuoc cham is the least sweet and most anchovy-flavored I've encountered at a restaurant in the states, and it really complemented the food well. Everything tasted fresh and light, and the chef has an elegant touch that could be perceived as bland by some. I personally liked the gentle caressing quality of the food and noticed that I felt much less weighed down and thirsty compared to post-lunch at Vung Tau or other Asian restaurants. Vegetarians should note that there are about 8 vegetarian items on the menu w/ a number of banh offerings.
Last note is that the prices were very reasonable w/ the average banh dish being $4.50 and substantial noodle or rice plates in the $6.50 range. Service was very good, and not being able to speak Vietnamese, I really appreciated the one bilingual man who took my reservation for 8 and kindly assisted us in crafting a family-style meal and moderating the pacing. He also recommended the bun cha ca #23 and hu tieu #31, so we might have to try that along w/ the banh xeo next time.
Can't wait to eat here again! Thanks for all the sweet treats that everyone brought to share; you hounds are a passionate and generous bunch. If anyone is interested in getting on an invite list for our Thurs. 1pm monthly lunches in San Jose exploring Viet cuisine, feel free to email me.
Thank you very much (again) to Alice Patis and Carb Lover for organizing lunch, ordering all those intruiging dishes, and then posting their names and photographs! If, like me, you are new to this branch of Vietnamese cuisine, you'd certainly want a copy of Alice's post to guide you through a meal at Quang Da.
Having eaten my way through more than my share of various foods, it has become increasingly difficult to find dishes that are both unfamiliar and delicious. This lunch was a fantastic opportunity to explore the elegance and variety of Vietnamese food.
I thoroughly enjoyed ALL of the banh. Especially the chewy Banh Bot Loc, many-faceted Banh Cuon, and Banh Beo (probably because of the crisp pork fat.) But my favorite dish was the Com Hen, with the rich mineral flavor of the clams, crisp vegetables, and pugent shrimp paste.
Like Alice, I was pleased that the main dipping sauce was a strong salty-fishy nuoc cham with chili, rather than the usual sweetened, watery fish sauce. And I agree with Carb Lover that something about divvying up noodle soups detracts a lot from their enjoyment. They really should be kept to oneself, or at most, shared with just one other person.
So, thank you Carb Lover and Alice for introducing me to a new and delicious set of dishes which I am eager to try again!
Another fantastic lunch in what is becoming a regular south bay vietnamese lunch group. I was the first person to post on this place a few years ago so it was nice to get back and see if I still like it.
My favorites were:
Com Hen- for those that complain about watering down of asian flavors, this dish was pungent with its mix of shrimp paste, a ton of chile for vietnamese food with herbs, clams and rice.
The Vietnamese Oaxacan tamale, Banh La, stood out for me for the tender texture of its rice dumpling and the subtle play between the ground pork, rice dough, banana leaf aroma and the fish sauce.
Overall everthing was very good. Even my least favorite dish, the Banh It kep Banh Ram, was wonderfuly executed. I did not love it because it was the chewiest dumpling, but the interplay of textures and flavors and the lack of any greasiness in the texture of the dish made me think that the kitchen perfectly exectuted a dish that is not to my personal tastes.
I think this is a must try for anyone with an interest in reginal asian cuisines. All of the banh dishes are similar in structure but Quang Da did a great job of making each unique both in flavor and texture.
And a super big thanks to hounds who bring treats like Turron, candied coconut, super juicy home grown lemons and New Years Cakes!
Oh and there were shallots on the Banh Cuon. Certain un-named hounds who may have gotten that plate first may have picked off the pieces with the most shallots and can confirm that they were homemade, super-tasty and added an important dimension to the dish. Sorry Alice :O
re: Nathan P.
Gosh, I guess I was lucky to get a fried shallot on my portion of banh cuon at the other end of the table then...
Did you happen to eat my portion of banh bot loc then??! I'm seriously blanking on this and can't remember what it looked or tasted like if I did ingest such a thing. Even Alice's banh guide didn't help. We will be in San Jose again tomorrow, and I'm sooooo tempted to eat there again w/ Y but I don't know if it will happen...It's official, I've got the banh bug.
re: Carb Lover
re: Carb Lover
next time, just position me between yourself and the marauding yimster. we'll make sure you're served right after the photo shoot. if that fails, we'll get his doctor to come to the chowdown!
ps, at least you got to go to the watsonville thing. i just had to read about it in mute jealousy.
re: Carb Lover
Another most enjoyable lunch! Thanks Alice and Tran for organizing and ordering. I loved all of the flavors but for me the standouts were the Banh Cuon Nhan Thit "Tien Hung", the Goi Mit Tran, Yuc Banh Trang and the MiQuaung. These are dishes that I've only had one other chance to sample but I'm looking forward to having them again. Many thanks to Alice for the soursop and coconut candies, Pia for the Pili Pili nuts and turrone, and Yimster for the New Years cake! Tran, love your pix - they totally made me want to drive down there and have the dishes all over again!
i'd never tried, seen, nor even heard of banh cuon before that lunch. to be honest, when the plate hit the table in front of me, i wasn't that intrigued either. the pallid translucence of the rolls suggest flavors as vibrant as a fog bank. the pale pork 'bologna' more of the same. the pork 'sung' looked like dry shreds of hemp rope, useful just maybe for scrubbing pots. a few herbs tossed on top and there you are.
but in one bite, nay, half a bite (my jaws didn't even unclench) i felt i had met my long lost vietnamese godmother, and she missed me! food love shone across my face, and with lips still sealed but arcing impishly, i looked across at my fellow carb lover and gave the big thumbs up. i was a happy chowhound.
the com hen was pretty heady stuff too. a big bowl of this is perhaps what in vietnam could be called a power lunch. loved the blend of bold flavors and textures that still kept it's balance. i'd love to have this for lunch at my office, if i could only explain the scent left in the microwave...
thanks to our lady of starch for organizing (and photographing), alice for her knowledge, and all the generous snack sharers for the goodies. it was like an early lunar new year's day.
happy new year folks, it's our year after all. (woof)
Thought I'd bump up our old report to announce that I saw on jatbar.com that Quang Da is now closed. No other info besides it being closed. Can any hounds confirm the closure or provide any more info?
I have very fond memories of our lunch there and the couple times I went there w/ husband for dinner. I will miss the unique Central Viet cuisine. The place is small and it was never crowded when I was in, but they took pride in their food. I was going to go there a few months ago but got derailed to try Lan's pho across from city hall.
Thanks to Quang Da for expanding my Viet cuisine repertoire. A reminder that one can never take for granted that any business will be around forever especially in this economic climate...Perhaps I'll make banh cuon this weekend to honor them.
re: Carb Lover
I feel bad too, as I always meant to try Quang Da and never made it. When these things happen, I feel like I have some responsibility too.
Here's a record of a license transfer for the address, so I believe it's true.
The new business occupant is COM GA NAM AN.
Quang Da Restaurant
348 E Santa Clara St, San Jose, CA 95112
re: Melanie Wong
I just drove past that address today. The new occupant, Com Ga Nam An, will specialize in Hainanese Chicken Rice, which is a completely new dish to me. Hoping that the "Grand Opening" sign out front meant they were open now, I parked in front at lunchtime and peered inside. It was all dark, a small sign said "Com Ga Nam An Closed for Repairs", and there was litter on the floor inside and out. Hopefully they will open soon, and when they do, I'll try this specialty for the first time and report back here.