Lunch at Nha Hang Saigon Seafood Restaurant aka Saigon Vien Dong - San Jose
Melanie Wong's email to the SVchowdown@yahoogroups.com distribution list resulted in 9 hounds meeting for lunch today at Nha Hang Saigon Seafood Restaurant in San Jose. In a previous incarnation or maybe it's morphing into it - another name might be Saigon Vien Dong... What ever you want to call it, we had a very enjoyable lunch - thanks Melanie for rallying the troops!
From the large menu we munched our way through the following:
#4 - Thit De Nuong - Sizzling Goat Meat
#5 - Ngheu Xuc Banh Da - Baby Clams with Special Spices
#7 - Chim Cut Chien Don - Roast Quail
#12 - Goi Sua Tom Thit - Pork, Prawns & Jelly Fish Salad
#18 - Cari De - Curry Goat
#19 - Cha Ca Thanh Long - Sizzling Fish
#23 - Hu Tieu Nam Van Kho - Nam Vang Rice Noodle Soup (dry)
#24 - Hu Tieu Nam Vang - Nam Vang Rice Noodle Soup
Supplemented with a couple of Iced Coffees, Iced Thai Tea, Avocado, Durian, and Jackfruit shakes and a Soda Salted Lemon (I think), including tax and tip, the tab came to $13/pp.
I really liked the whole meal but I always seem to enjoy the salads the most for the fresh, herby tastes - so #12 was my favorite - I could have happily eaten the whole thing :-) - it was served with shrimp chips. The Baby Clams with Special Spices was very yummy too - served with the large crispy rice crackers with black sesame seeds - this was actually chopped baby clams sauteed with all sorts of good-tasting stuff. Really enjoyed the rice noodles in the dry noodle soup; nice chewy texture (I thought).
I hope the rest of the table participants will add their thoughts on lunch.
I almost forgot a fun part of the lunch - afterwards we walked a couple of doors down to a woman who was selling fresh tropical fruits on the sidewalk - she had lychees, Manila mangoes and Mangosteens, but the big draw was the fresh jackfruit! Thanks to Alice for handling the language requirements - I have never had fresh jackfruit and am looking forward to it for dessert this evening.
740 Story Rd 1, San Jose, CA
Thank you all for a fun time in Little Saigon. Recently I've become obsessed with Hu Tieu Nam Vang, a Khmer-style noodle soup in pork bone broth that is often available at Chinese-Vietnamese places. I roped in the 'hounds to join me here to try the wet and dry version. I tried the wet, but got too wrapped up in visiting and forgot to taste the dry one! So far I haven't found one that hits all the high points, but I'd say that the version here was pretty good. The pork stock was quite tasty and light, but maybe had a bit of MSG in it. As Alice pointed out, the seafood (calamari and shrimp) in the noodles were on point in texture and doneness. The slices of pork liver, my least favorite part of HTNV elsewhere, were done so well here with a silky texture and no bitterness or metallic aftertaste. The pork heart was tender and not too chewy. The meat clinging to the pig neck bones didn't quite come off cleanly. . . but at least it wasn't overcooked and dessicated. The noodles in the wet version had gone soft by the time I tried it; glad to hear from RWCF that the dry ones were still chewy.
The goat curry was pretty generic in seasoning (i.e., madras curry powder), but I liked the texture of the chunks of goat and the skin. Also, the french roll served alongside to sop up the gravy was hot and crackly crisp. I also liked the baby clams a lot. Even though the bun cha ca missed the extra nuance of sizzled onions and dill, I thought it was delicious and the fish was cooked so precisely. As luck would have it, I ended up having dinner at SF's Bodega Bistro that same day and ordered the bun cha ca there. Certainly a more upscale presentation (and the onions and dill gave up their full fragrance and flavor to the dish) at BB, but I thought Saigon Seafood's fermented sauce had a little extra something over BB's version.
Cooking style is rustic but it's far from a dive. Again, I was impressed by the handling of the seafood, and I'll bet that there are other gems to be found on the menu here with some digging.
Prices are very low here and portions are big. Of the dishes we tried, only the quail was a double order, and we had more than enough to feed 7 adults, 2 'tweens, and 1 chowpup. Our $13 pp bill included our beverages, more than 20% tip, and we counted the three girls as "1". So, I think it would be easy to eat well here for less than $10.
The post-lunch jackfruit shopping was indeed very fun. The tropical aroma when the giant fruit was first cracked open, observing Alice haggle, and trying my best to stay out of the way of the big knife . . . a great experience.
Taming the giant jackfruit photos:
An excellent lunch indeed. Melanie had described having the #23 at another location that had very chewy noodles and I had hoped these would be as well. Alas, the noodles were ordinary and I wasn't overly impressed by the whole dish (dry or wet).
I did very enjoy the #12 and the #4. The sizzingly goat meat was simply prepared but tasty without having an "old" goat taste to it. I didn't sample the quail, but that's a personal choice -- too much work for too little meat!
Thank you, Melanie, for organizing the lunch. Well worth the 13 mile bike ride to get there.
everything was delicious, very fresh, lots of herbs and dipping sauces (including some raw galangal
cut into matchsticks for that indispensable hint of menthol).
the goat was taken off the bone in both goat dishes.
the mild goat curry (served with a baguette for dipping) was worth ignoring, but that's my
conclusion for non-indus curries, so far.
the only small flaw was the sizzling fish (which was delicious and perfectly cooked but, as alice pointed out,
should have been put on a superheated platter so the onion chards would cook) but the
platter was cold.
in the "heaven and hell" department, they have both avocado and durian shakes.
this place has very good price performance, i'd say. CASH ONLY, by the way...
The BEST dish was the #12! It was FANTASTIC! I loved the pork (ear and skin) contrast with the jellyfish. The daughter-units also enjoyed the sizzling goat and quail but the curried goat had a little too much gristle for us. <shrug>
Daughter-units Alpha and Beta kept bugging me the entire route home about that monster! "Are you going to cut it up for us when we get home?" Spawn let them take the heat since I am quite capable in hearing requests once and retaining that information.
We very much enjoyed it. Thanks again go to Alice for her volunteered (and valuable) language skills!
BTW: The daughter-units will be convincing SWMBO to include this place in our dinner rotation. I'm sure the Tuesday through Sunday open hours will make it a favorite of our very soon.
re: The Ranger
Ranger: This might be relegated to the Home Cooking Board but, I found many interesting things on the www on Jackfruit - here's one link that explains it quite well - I thought that only the orange sort of pulpy things with the seeds in the middle were edible - wrong - even the seeds can be eaten - check it out:
We also learned this through the wiki entries I had all three digging through. :)
Unfortunately the fruit smelled a lot better than it tasted to the three. SWMBO was impressed with the stickiness of the sap! (*Thanks for the warning, Alice.*) I found the vanilla overtones divine but can't eat 9 lbs. of fruit by myself. Woof!
For those interested, there's a fruit (street) vendor lodging between Suite 4 and 5. I'm not sure if she's properly papered but she was selling lychee, Philippine mangos, mangosteens, and nectarines. Prices weren't great but I didn't feel abused either. I was _STUNNED_ at the sheer size of the Jackfruit!
re: The Ranger
Too bad - we both really like the flavor and I tried nuking the seeds - they did sort of remind us of chestnuts... The good news, from what I've read, is that it can readily be frozen. I'm sure you read that the part around the orange fruity bits can be used like a vegetable... very interesting fruit.