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Nov 29, 2007 07:01 PM

Explorations on Brookhurst: New Trieu Chau, Garden Grove

I've been on Chowhound a long time... by the time we switched over to CNet, I had already put in four or five years and many, many restaurant reviews: some formal, some informal. Some of you know that I'm not exactly harsh on most places. If anything, I'm too forgiving with restaurants that others pan. I've eaten in some pretty "meh" restaurants, and I've written long reviews that amounted to "$RESTAURANT... meh." I've never written a scathing review, though.

Until now. So sit back and relax, because the horror is just beginning.

I was all set to go get one of those pizzas from Luigi's D'Italia that I swear is made with crack cocaine in the sausage. It's close, it's fast, the people are friendly, the pizza is great. But then I logged onto Chowhound and saw eatdrinknbemerry telling me about his (or her, I'm sorry, I don't know) favourite Chaozhou restaurant, called Trieu Chau, in Santa Ana on 1st and Newhope (the same plaza as the famed Newport Seafood for those keeping track).

But he didn't mention until I'd already got back that they close at 5 PM (which, between my work location and my work hours, pretty much means that I will never eat at Trieu Chau). Nothing daunted, I locked my doors against the random men standing in the shadows of the side street next to Newport Seafood, whipped out my BlackBerry for a quick search and found out there was a "New Trieu Chau" on Westminster Boulevard.

Off I went, visions of muay (not sure how you actually spell that, the Cantonese call it "chiuchow jook"), the seafoody, savoury, delicately-flavoured rice porridge that, along with tiet kwun yum oolong tea, is the signature of Chiuchow cuisine. Every Chiuchow restaurant I've ever been to serves it instead of rice, usually for a very small surcharge.

I pull into the parking lot -- good, it's busy. I then read the sign on the window: "HU TIEU NAM VANG". I don't WANT noodle soup. So I peruse the menu and sure enough, five kinds of chao (the Vietnamese word for porridge), including "House Porridge", with "mixed seafood". I sit down, and instantly a fork and a picture menu appear. The picture menu is put face down on the table, and the waiter pointed at... a hamburger and fries. I gave him a very cold look and very pointedly moved the hated picture menu and the fork to the other side of the table.

"I can read the menu without the pictures," I said, "and I don't want a hamburger. I want house porridge and a dau cha quay [Chinese salty donut]."

"No more."

"No more what, chao? Or dau cha quay?"

"We have chao, no more donut."

"Okay... how about sieu mai [the next thing on the list]?"

"No more. You like fish cake instead."

"Fine. Also give me ca phe sua da [Vietnamese iced coffee]."

Hot tea arrived in a plastic cold drink cup. Way to go, guys -- you couldn't afford the 30-cent teacups from 99 Ranch, so instead I'm drinking warm, sweetened (ick!) Chinese tea from a Solo cup?

The porridge arrived, and it LOOKED tasty -- fried shallots, green onions, and small shreds of ginger floating on an ocean of white porridge. Unfortunately, it tasted like absolutely nothing. I've eaten jook enough to know what it's supposed to taste like, and I've eaten Chiuchow jook enough to know what IT'S supposed to taste like. It's not meant to be strongly-flavoured; it's meant to fill a belly, and it's great when you're sick because it's not going to knock you down with a big pungent hit of whatever. This tasted like water. There were little shrimp floating in it. Even dipped in the ubiquitous Vietnamese staple of pepper and lime, they tasted like rubber water balls. The (whole) squid had the beak left in. And then there was the liver. I wasn't expecting liver, so I took a big bite. What a mistake -- I had to chug an entire Solo cupful of the weird tea to wash it down.

There was a throat-clearing from above me, as the waiter set down a shaker of salt and a red squeeze bottle. "Well," I thought, "chili sauce is a little weird in jook, but at least it will taste like SOMETHING." So I squeezed a bit into a clean sauce dish to see how hot it was -- and it was ketchup. KETCHUP. They gave me KETCHUP for my PORRIDGE. I couldn't believe it. I got up and took the ketchup to the cashier, a look of utter scorn on my face. "You can keep this," I sneered in Cantonese, "I don't want it."

By the time I'd sat down, my fish cakes had shown up -- ten of them (!!) with a plate of salted cabbage and a thin, chile-spiked sauce. This would have been fine, except that they were burning hot around the edge and stone cold in the centre. I sent it back with a snarl of, "You can't make hot food?" I heard a microwave running for what must have been three minutes, and the cakes came back RIPPING hot. Once they'd cooled down past "napalm", I tried eating one. I literally could not make my teeth pierce the skin of these fish patties. I tried spearing one with my chopsticks, in pretty much direct violation of every Asian etiquette rule in existence, and it went flying off the table in a streak of grease. I finally took the hated fork, speared a second one, and successfully ripped it in half -- with my hands. I dipped and nibbled -- Goodyear has nothing on these little rounds of fish; if you bounced one outside, you'd send it into orbit.

Finally, my coffee showed up, already made hot, with a glass containing four ice cubes. I mixed it, poured it over, and took a slug. It was as bitter as wormwood. I could not drink it.

I gave up. New Trieu Chau won. I paid the bill ($13.50!!), left the change from $15 on the counter, and walked out. I went to Van's Bakery and had a sinh to [shake] to get the taste out of my mouth. As I sucked down the mango shake, the girl behind the counter said, "What is wrong?" When I told her where I had eaten, she laughed and said, "Next time have pho when you're sick!"

I assume Trieu Chau couldn't be this bad or it wouldn't have been recommended, which leads to one conclusion only: New Trieu Chau didn't split from Trieu Chau, it was rejected by its host body. I should have eaten pizza.

Don't go. Good Chowhounds don't let Chowhounds eat bad food.

New Trieu Chau Restaurant
9902 Westminster Boulevard (corner of Brookhurst)
Garden Grove, CA 92844

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  1. I like your positive reviews, but you should write more negative ones. It's fun to read. Sorry about the bad experience though.

    Funny that I also went to Trieu Chau this week. Not the New Trieu Chau, but the original on First. The difference is that I walked out before I even ordered.

    Here's the story:

    I was alone. It was lunch hour. The restaurant was packed. I walked in and held up a single finger, signaling I was a party of one. The guy asks me to follow him to the back where there was a round table. At the table were other dudes who were dining alone.

    "Have a seat," he said.

    I looked around, surveyed the scene, and left.

    I would've stayed. I don't have a problem communally dining with strangers. But since I was going to be taking pictures of my food I didn't want to weird out my tablemates. They looked like nice people who deserved better than to be bothered during their lunch break.

    I'll try coming back later. But I'll avoid New Trieu Chau in light of your post.

    By the way, did you know there's a New New Trieu Chau? Noodle Avenue in Tustin.

    3 Replies
    1. re: elmomonster

      Das, haha. You've gotta be kidding me... they serve Hamburgers & Fries there? That is probably the worst, regardless of any sort of exaggeration, experience anyone can have. Can you also order popcorn and watch the latest movie on the projector? I forgot to mention... DO NOT get TRIEU CHAU confused with NEW TRIEU CHAU on westminster/brookhurst. I've eaten there enough to say... "That's ENOUGH". It's the kind of meal, where you put the food in your mouth, pay the bill, walk out the door, and go, "WTF did i just pay for???" Surely it's not that bad right? I'm sure there are things I overlook on the menu.

      But what i look for SPECIFICALLY is either the seafood rice noodle or the beef ball/fried fish slice rice noodles. And for me, places in San Diego, Oakland and Trieu Chau in Santa Ana satiate my needs.

      Hope you have the chance to go back on the weekend to try out TC restaurant. And I am male.

      Elmo, yeah I don't want to gross people out with TWO of my experiences I've had at TC restaurant. "A" ratings mean American, "C" means chinese, that's how it is. But i like the food enough to say, put your head down, eat, say mmm, pay and walkout. No matter who i'm sitting with. what is Noodle Avenue in Tustin?

      1. re: eatdrinknbmerry


        Noodle Avenue is related somehow to the Trieu Chau's, but it follows the Pei Wei business model. Stir Fried meats in different permutations for the non-Asian, oodles of noodles for the rest.

        Here's a pic:

        1. re: elmomonster

          Rameniac, if I told that story, who's going to ever take my recommendations? haha.

          Elmo, it's owned by the same people? This seems to be more geared towards the college crowd, like Noodle Planet at UCLA? Broth looks great though.

    2. I could've told you the two were not related, and not in the same ballpark. Too bad you can't hit up the real Trieu Chau at Newhope/First, but your New Trieu Chau experience is too funny! Never go to New Trieu Chau, I've been waiting for them to go out of business for the longest time, so something new/better can take its place, but they refuse to go away. At least, Brodard is there at the same corner, and so is the 7 courses of beef place.

      4 Replies
      1. re: kingkong5

        What do you get at Trieu Chau?

        Yes, Brodard is definitely a better option than New Trieu Chau haha.

          1. re: eatdrinknbmerry

            When it's cold outside, I like getting the Mi dac biet (egg noodles w/ pork, shrimp, fried chicken leg) which has the soupy broth in it. If it's hot out, I will get the same, but order it "dry" where they put in a sweet/savory oyster sauce to mix in with the noodles and stuff, and you get a bowl of hot broth on the side.

            I also like the dau cha quay, fried donut, which I dip in the soup. They usually run out of donuts by 9am though, so then I will take an order of the xiu mai, little pork meatball.

            My wife likes the hu tieu instead (rice noodles), and will even order her bowl with half and half (1/2 Mi and 1/2 hu tieu) for a tasty change of textures.

            One more off menu special is to get a bowl of soup hoac (I am sure I'm not spelling it right, but you say it like 'whack'). It is a giant bowl of soup broth with the pork bones still in it. You can get some good meat off the bones if you want, but it's great just to have an extra large bowl of broth. You will see some of the more regular customers have these bowls of soup bones at their table.

            1. re: kingkong5

              kingkong, i have had the beef bone soup, it's tasty and rich.

        1. Awesome review Das Ubergeek (as usual :).

          That's hilarious (and my sincere condolences :). Thanks for the warning on this place.

          1. Your reviews are always amusing - this one really takes the cake. At least now I have to try the 'good' Trieu Chau restaurant and avoid the 'New' one.

            I think any time you are served sugar with tea in an Asian restaurant - run out don't walk!

            I got a horror of a meal at La Habra in a pseudo-chinese restaurant. They put sugar in their green tea. But Garden Grove has a lot of Asian residents, isn't it? Hard to see how that survived.

            1 Reply
            1. re: notmartha

              Yeah, New Trieu Chau is actually in the designated "Little Saigon" area, so either (a) I just completely missed ordering what they're actually good at, (b) the people who eat there are desperate and have wooden palates, or (c) I got "special treatment".

              Regarding the tea though, I thought, well, maybe it's baat po chaa (八寶茶 - "eight treasure tea"), which has rock sugar and jujubes in it, but no, it was sweetened jasmine tea.

            2. I live down the street from the old Trieu Chau. Never even considered the new Trieu Chau, but thanks for the heads up.

              The only redeeming aspect of Trieu Chau is the chinese donuts. But when they're out (which they are VERY early in the morning) there's really no point. There's a spot by Banh Mi Che Cali on first/harbor that serves Chao that I went to when I was younger. We would go to Trieu Chau, get chinese donuts, then head to the other place to pick up porridge.

              I would recommend you try Kang Lac Bakery. Unfortunately, I cannot attest to their porridge. I will say that I go there quite a bit, and ALOT of tables eat their porridge. They've also been around forever and a half AND serve the best cafe sua da in SoCal.

              Their chinese donuts, however, are hit or miss.

              2 Replies
              1. re: ns1

                There's some place near Seafood Paradise on Westminster Blvd. that advertises chao (as with all Viet food shops in Little Saigon, what they write on the window is what they say they specialise in), and another place at the end of the food court in the so-sad Asian Garden Mall. Anyone have any experience with either?

                1. re: ns1

                  I also highly recommend the donuts at Kang Lac Bakery, it's on Bolsa near the Asian Garden Mall. But we usually just take them home and make our own chao to dunk them in, so your mileage may vary.