Bin Min Quan Chowdown, Oakland
A large group of fearless Chowhounds (18!) enjoyed a massive dinner at Bin Min Quan in Oakland (338 12th St)last night. As usual we ordered much more than we can possibly consume, but this is our tradition!
The place is completely renovated and is now a delightful version of a French villa in Saigon! The owner and her family make sure the food is as fresh and original as any in Vietnam. No Americanized versions of dishes here.
The following dishes were consumed:
Cha Gio Imperial rolls
Bo Bia, Jicama rolls
Canh Ga Nhoi stuffed chicken wings
Goi Ngo Lotus root salad
Bo La LOp Beef in Lot leaf
Bo Mo Chai Imperial sausage
Goi Cuon Chai veggie rolls
Ban Xeo Pancakes
Suon Rim Pork spare ribs stewed
Sweet and Sour fish soup
Ca Duc Lo Roasted Catfish
I will let others comment on the dishes....I particularly enjoy my usual favorites the pancake and the salad...also the catfish which is amazing!!!
What a fantastic array of flavors! As I mentioned at the far end of the table, I've been past this restaurant a zillion times, but was completely in the dark as to the talented chef flourishing inside. I thoroughly enjoyed this excellent Chowdown and as always, the company was great! If you haven't been out with the SF gang, then you really owe it to yourself to come along for the ride in the very near future and enjoy the comfort that comes only from eating good food while talking about other tasty meals that you've had or plan to have.
To the veterans, it was great to see you guys again. To the newcomers, I enjoyed meeting you all. Big thanks to Marlon and Lisa for scouting and planning yet another winning chapter in the SF Chowdown epic!
As to the meal, here were my favorites:
Stuffed chicken wings: As discussed, my mother used to make this dish and this was an excellent rendition that was flavorful and crispy.
Lotus Root Salad: Thanks to Lambert for confirming the identity of the root. I suspected as much from the long threads of super fine fibers, but I'd never enjoyed such young Lotus roots. They were almost shoots and the texture was an excellent base for the refreshing salad and accompanying shrimp.
Ban Xeo: This crepesque dish was another winner wrapped in the ever abundent and uber-fresh accompanying leafy greens. Mung beans were still crunchy and the shrimp cooked just so.
Bo Mo Chai/Imperial Sausage: Cooked perfectly, these oft-dried out, rolls of beef were well seasoned and again perfectly wrapped in my own moderate combination of both lettuce and rice paper. This and the beef in Lot leaf were among the more familiar dishes, but decidely better than the average renditions peddled by other pretenders to the crown.
Roasted Catfish: Time and time again the litmus test for a chef/cook's overall skill level is the ability to prepare fish. Happily the FOUR huge catfish proved to be commensurate with the chef's considerable abilities. Crisp outside to the point of suspected flash frying, the meat was moist and succulent. Thus the only problem was exercising enough restraint to avoid overstuffing the rice paper wrapper. Once that had been tackled, the dish was pretty darn near perfect.
*Bonus hint: Sitting at the end of the long table yields the ancillary benefit of being close to the "parking lot" where many dishes end up after being passed down the line. Just ask Mark as he and I had our pick of seconds as new dishes took the spot light away from their predecessors.
re: Robert Lauriston
assuming the bo la lot on your list is the same as the Bo La LOp Beef in Lot leaf that we had, wow, I must *strongly* disagree: really unusual, delicious flavor. I ate way more than my share.
Nor was the stuffed chicken wing dry. Maybe you didn't hit a good night (at least for those items?)...
Dishes like that, that require quite a bit of prep, are probably made ahead and refrigerated until they're ordered. If they spend too much time in the fridge, that could affect the quality. Since this meal was pre-ordered, everything was freshmade for us, which may mean that some of the dishes were better than someone might get if they walked in off the street.
re: Robert Lauriston
Thanks for the review of additional dishes (and favorites of mine) such as the beef cooked in hot vinegar. I plan to order that on my first return trip. I think that we definitely benefitted from the chef's attention since we not only preordered our food, but it was a fairly small crowd besides our table. Thus, the stuffed chicken wings were really fresh from the kitchen and quite moist. Similarly, both beef rolls, including the ones wrapped in Lot leaves, were perfectly cooked as mentioned.
Great dinner, Marlon! Thanks for organizing and pre-ordering. I thought everything was perfectly prepared and sparkling fresh. I think you're missing a couple of dishes, though. There was another roll with roast pork and the shrimp/sugercane dish (although I didn't think either was particularly memorable, which is probably why you forgot them!).
Of the dishes I'd never had before, I thought the catfish was amazing -- I dubbed it "Peking catfish" because wrapping the crisp skin and moist flesh in rice paper sheets reminded me of Peking duck. I also really liked the Jicama rolls, which I thought were much better than the traditional shrimp rolls -- the use of some kind of ham-like meat gave it both more flavor and an interesting texture. As I noted to Susan, you can tell from the tenderness of the wrappers that these were freshly made and had never been refrigerated.
Of the more familiar dishes, I thought the stuffed chicken and the banh xeo were standouts. I particularly liked the strong coconut milk flavor in the pancake portion of the banh xeo. I loved the pork ribs (I lingered and snagged the leftovers for lunch today).
Finally, because I've been a stickler about this, I should mention that this dinner was not announced on the board -- it was announced first through the East Bay Lunch Series email list, and all the available spots were quickly (the same day!) filled from that before it could be posted to the board at large.
If you'd like to be put on the mailing list so you can get first dibs on a space for the next blowout meal (coming soon!), you should contact Marlon (his email is on his original post).
Oh and one more thing ... it has come to my attention that some shy chowhounds consider me intimidating. When someone brought this up at dinner last night, it was met with gales of laughter.
Truly, I'm not scary at all. I promise! Come to dinner, meet me and see. (I know the feeling, though -- I was intimidated the first time I met Melanie, but she and rworange aren't scary, either. I'm not sure I've met anyone through chowhound who was. Although I've never met Robert Lauriston; we have a mutual friend who assures me that Robert is in person exactly the way he is on the Internet.)
re: Ruth Lafler
Actually, to be technical, I think it was announced on the SF Lunch list, not the East Bay one....but in any case, would nja or someone more in the know than me like to post how to get on the SFLunch List, so those of you that want to take part in such future events will get the evite heads up?
(I can see to it that folks are added to the East Bay/Oakland list if you email me..., and yes, we really are going to do an Oakland lunch event soon. really!)
Now, not to be technical any longer, it was a WONDERFUL dinner, and I ate way too much. I had had a particularly hectic work day and really needed the comfort that really excellent Vietnamese food always seems to provide (for me anyway :-)) But today is another crazy day, so will post more of my own thoughts later.
re: Gary Soup
No way -- she's a sweetie! Nope, the scariest person I know of on this board is Derek: if you get between him and the food, you'd better be prepared to fend him off with fork or chopstick! Melanie usually has to have someone restrain him so he doesn't dive into the platter before she can take pictures. (vbg)
More of my thoughts:
First of all, a BIG thanks to Marlon and Lisa for organizing; it was a great evening and you did an excellent job of ordering! It was also nice to see such a large group and that the restaurant was able to accomodate such a big group so seamlessly....
As I mentioned in another post, I loved the beef in lot leaf and the stuffed chicken wings, but I think my two favorite dishes were the catfish (amazing, crispy skin contrasting with the shiso, basil and lettuce leaves and moist fish) and the jicama roll, with sausage of some type. That roll was a great way to start the meal! Oh yeah, and the pork ribs at the end were pretty darn good too: very porky little bites in a rich and balanced sauce, and the only reason Ruth was able to snag leftovers was that we'd all stuffed ourselves before they even showed up at the table!
The crepe was also excellent, but I have to admit, having had the one at Lotus Garden in SF the night before, I give a slight nod to the LG version for its crispier texture....although agreed that the coconut milk flavor in the BMQ version was a real plus. Actually, that is a dish I never get tired of eating, as long as it is well made, which is certainly the case at Bin Minh Quan...
A feast for thirty dollars, and great company besides!