Vietnamese food in OC for a tough customer?
I love all kinds of food, but I am faced with a challenge. A very good friend wants me to take him to a Vietnamese restaurant, but I know from experience that there are many things he will not eat. He will not eat pork, or shellfish....and really doesn't like poultry or mushrooms. He is not a vegetarian, but will eat only selected meats (well done, extra lean beef) or fish (well done salmon, halibut, or sole). He will not eat any meat-based broth (chicken or beef), so I suppose pho is out. He is planning a trip to Vietnam, and has asked me to take him to a nice Vietnamese restaurant that might prepare him for his journey. I am pretty much at a loss. Does anyone know of a "nice", but still reasonably authentic Vietnamese restaurant in OC that will fill the bill? I know that there is one totally vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant in OC, but doubt that this will prepare someone for eating authentic Vietnamese food in Vietnam...am I right?
The places I think of as "nice," (i.e. - upscale places with a good looking room) in Little Saigon for noobs who want a Western friendly intro to authentic Vietnamese food:
S Fine Dining
Brodard Chateau (not the original Brodard)
Xanh Bistro (the room is a little more industrial loft chic than the others)
All of them will fit the bill in terms of authentic (though some lean more on the French side of French Indo China). In terms of specific items your picky friend will enjoy. Shaken Beef (bo luc lac) is a safe bet at any of them.
Fish - probably stay away. Perhaps I'm misreading "well done salmon, halibut, or sole" as "Midwestern, overcooked and bland fish served with tartar sauce or drowned in butter." I hope I'm wrong about that assumption? No self respecting Vietnamese cook makes bland, overcooked fish. It's a fish eating nation, you know?
Jeez, why does he want to go to Vietnam? All those restrictions leave out some of their best dishes. I understand if he has dietary restrictions for health or religious reasons, but I am afraid he will end up eating at the tourist restaurants and miss a huge opportunity for amazing food. I've been to Vietnam many times and one of the major reasons I go is to EAT! Don't end up eating at Pizza Hut when you are in Vietnam.
I think with all those restrictions, Vien Dong would be a good choice. The Cha Ca (fish w/ tumeric and dill) would be good. Xanh Bistro is nice and their braised short ribs are very good. I love Quan Hop but most of their dishes have pork, chicken beef or shrimp in them. Even a dish like Bun Bo Hue (well cooked beef w / nooodles) , still has pork in it. Maybe he should ease in to eating some authentic Vietnamese food. I think if you are sampling Vietnamese food you have to eat: Pho, Bun Bo Hue, Bun Thit Nuong, Bahn Mi, Banh Xeo, Banh Beo, Cha Ca, Spring Rolls...all of which don't fit the requirements.
Of course, I didn't see that he wouldn't eat goat. I can recommend an amazing BBQ goat place in Saigon.... One must stop in Saigon is Com Neiu Sai Gon. My (and Anthony Bourdain's) favorite restaurant in Saigon. He can find something he can eat there.
In Corona Del Mar, Bamboo Bistro, on Dahlia, is run by the owners of Brodard, one of the popular restaurants in Little Saigon. They have some of my Brodard favorites on the menu, authentic Vietnamese dishes, and they also have dishes designed for more picky/timid palates. The waiters are very pleasant and accustomed to non foodies, which you will not find if you go to Little Saigon, where, reasonably enough, the servers want to move quick and turn out the food.
LOL ! There are obviously many reasons to enjoy Vietnam besides the food,such as the people, culture, architecture, etc, etc... When I traveled in SE Asia, I was primarily a vegetarian, and very picky. I survived quite well eating plain rice , which you can get anywhere, and selected things that I liked, for me it was plain omelettes for protein. But eventually I did try new things, and opened up my tastes.
I surmise from your post that your friend is not kosher or vegetarian per se, but simply has very specific preferences, or maybe medical requirements. He will survive just fine. And might come back with expanded tastes, I would not be surprised.
Yes, there are many reasons to enjoy VN besides the food (I've been there eight times). That said, even most Vietnamese people would tell you that one of the main reasons for visiting VN is the food. People in Vietnam (and Little Saigon) love to eat. It's a very social thing. That is why there are probably more restaurants per square mile in Little Saigon than anywhere else in OC.
I think all of Professor Salts choices are good. My advice is to have your friend make an effort to open his mind a bit. I've always been adventurous, but there are a few things that I was nervous about eating. Now, I will eat just about anything. BBQ Duck Tongue? Delicious! Pig Ear Salad? Bring it on! Where is the Fish Head in my soup? Free your mind and your palate will follow!
Maybe you don't need to jump in the pool. Stick a toe in and get used to the water. Vietnamese food is the most interesting and delightful food in my opinion. They value fresh ingredients and unique flavors. Sweet and Savory. Hot and Sour. They use all of the animal and make it taste good. They take vegetables like Morning Glory taste like the best thing you ever ate.
Honestly -- if you want to prepare him for what it's going to be like in SE Asia with all those restrictions -- take him to any VN restaurant and let him try to explain it. Pork and shellfish are all over the region and show up even in places you wouldn't expect them.
That said, you could take him for 7 courses of beef at Pagolac or Thien An, you could take him to Xanh and let him pick shaken beef or the whitefish (it's orange roughy) in caramel sauce or the whitefish with mango salad. Grilled catfish with turmeric sauce is the rule at Vien Dong. He could go to Com Tam Tran Quy Cap or Com Tam Thuan Kieu and get broken rice with beef -- Thuan Kieu has regular beef and "bo dai han", Korean-style beef.
If he wants to be prepared for a visit to Vietnam, have him walk around and look at the menus of the Vietnamese restaurants in Garden Grove. That way, he'll know how his dietary restrictions will affect his restaurant choices in Vietnam. Fish sauce is used everywhere. Seafood and shellfish are abundant, and vegetable-based broths often have mushrooms in them. The vegetarian restaurants often use mushroom extract for flavoring, too.