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South Bay Viet Lunch returns to Cao Nguyen

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Six of us met at Cao Nguyen for another meal of the South Bay Viet Lunch group. My email address is in my profile if you want to join this group. This is a repeat for some of us (though the previous visit was almost 2 years ago).

I repeated a couple past favorites and combined with new dishes to try. So we had:

#4 Banh khot (fried rice flour shrimp cups) - 2 orders
#23 Duck salad with ginger nuoc mam dressing
#5 Grilled Quail (though I think grilled was not quite the technique used)
#155 Claypot pork/catfish (I requested half pork & half catfish)
#150 Frog legs in yellow curry sauce (on the menu it's Ech Xao Lan)
#151 Sea cucumber and black mushroom (over baby bok choy)
#111 Butter fried chicken wings
#53 Bun Mam - pork and fish noodle soup with fat vermicelli
Important: Later today talking to my mom, I found out the 'mam' in this dish is not fermented shrimp, it's fermented or "pickled" fish. I thought it was fermented shrimp because our family calls the fermented shrimp paste 'mam', but I found out that's just short for 'mam tom' (tom = shrimp). The 'mam' in this dish is short for 'mam ca' (ca = fish). Sorry I mistranslated this dish to those at the table!

Our dishes ranged from $6.25 to $9.25. Total before tip was $86 with a couple drinks.

I'll provide my thoughts on the food later, but wanted to comment that our server (who seemed knowledgeable enough to be the manager or co-owner) was quite pushy while I was ordering, similar to what we experienced in 2006 with a different server. Even though I spoke Vietnamese and told her we came to try unusual things, she kept pushing the standards like spring rolls and canh chua (hot & sour soup), and she had to be reassured three times that we (esp. the white folks) would like the "smelly" Bun Mam (which turned out to be not smelly at all, but still good).

Also I give them points for serving the dishes (at least at first) in correct sequence (appetizers, then dishes that go with rice, then noodle soup), though some of the later dishes were out of sequence.

Also points for her giving me a lesson on how to make the noodle soup Bun Mam, once she found out I really enjoyed it.

The company was great! The smaller size made it easier to focus on one conversation at a time which was nice (esp. since conversation was always about food). And thanks to Cicely for taking photos!

Report from our visit in 2006:

Cao Nguyen
2549 S King Rd # A16, San Jose, CA

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  1. Great meal and even better company. Could not agree more about a small group. It was great to be able to discuss the food with people who have a passion is shared by all.

    My favorite dish was the complex taste and flavor of the curried/rice noodle frog legs. Could have ate the whole thing.

    The clay pot had a wonderful sauce which was not too sweet. But the lean pork and muddy catfish taste was lacking. Would have loved it if had fatty pork and catfish that was better clean.

    Thanks for hosting Alice

    1. My favorites were the custardy banh khot, especially when they came out piping hot; the crisp-skinned quail dipped in lime juice with salt and pepper; and the noodle soup, which was tangy and tasty. The chicken wings were also perfectly fried and picked up a lot of heat from their bed of sliced jalapenos... I wished I had a glass of milk!

      Photos to come ... my internet connection has been on the fritz this weekend.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Cicely


        1. re: Cicely

          more photos

        2. This was a nice lunch, though I think I enjoyed my first visit to this restaurant the best. Thoughts on each dish below:

          #4 Banh khot (fried rice flour shrimp cups) - 2 orders
          - This dish is not a favorite of mine, but they make it well here

          #23 Duck salad with ginger nuoc mam dressing
          - good, but I prefer a roasted duck salad, with flaky skin!

          #5 Grilled Quail (though I think grilled was not quite the technique used)
          - better than anything I can get in SF

          #155 Claypot pork/catfish (I requested half pork & half catfish)
          - Tasty with rice

          #150 Frog legs in yellow curry sauce (on the menu it's Ech Xao Lan)
          - may favorite of all the dishes, but maybe I was just craving yellow curry.

          #151 Sea cucumber and black mushroom (over baby bok choy)
          - nice to have with our dishes. Remindd me of a Taiwanese dish, but I'm not familiar.

          #111 Butter fried chicken wings
          - did not try these.

          #53 Bun Mam - pork and fish noodle soup with fat vermicelli
          - excellent broth flavor, and fragrant.

          Thanks for organizing, Alice, and nice to meet some new people, of course!

          5 Replies
          1. re: David Wishart

            Can you tell me where to get Viet duck salad with roasted duck?

            1. re: RWCFoodie

              Hi Karen:

              I just make it myself with roast duck from a place (Sorry, don't recall the name) in outer sunset, lotus root, mint, cilantro, cherry tomatoes and prepared fish sauce *Nuoc Mam Plah" to taste. You can use or substitute other things, like thinly sliced purple onion, cabbage or lemongrass. I wouldn't cal it authentic, but it's a good summer dish, especially with a Rosé.

              1. re: David Wishart

                Sounds great. Recently when I was in the City and pick up so Roast Duck we made a combo Roast Chicken (Costco) Roast Duck (Chinatown) and Raw Fish Salad.

                Red and Green Cabbage, Iceberg Lettuce, Diced fresh tomatoes, minced red and pink ginger, pickled misc Chinese vegetables. sliced onion and of course our dressing. Great hot weather salad.

                1. re: yimster

                  Now inspired to make a version this week-end!

                2. re: David Wishart

                  Thanks David - I just keep thinking about it. The menu description doesn't begin to do it justice: "Goi Vit Quay - Roasted Duck Salad - Roasted duck over cabbage, carrot & onions in house special vinaigrette topped with “rau ram” with herbs, peanut & shallots" (this was a place in SoCal). I guess I'll just have to make it myself... or take a trip to Garden Grove!