Chowdown Report - Quang Da in San Jose
- Alice Patis Jan 27, 2006 11:59 AM
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.
Thanks for the posting - those pictures from Carb Lover made my mouth water, even though I haven't had much in the way of Vietnamese food other than the occasional bahn mi.
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!