Quan Hy - Westmister (long)
- Professor Salt
In today's episode, our band of meddling kids explore the mysteries of Hue cuisine at Little Saigon's Quan Hy. Sandra invited friends from the Chowhound board. I loved that nobody cared what was on the menu. We all were in, no matter what showed up on the table. True chowhounds!
The chorus of flavors in Vietnamese cuisine fascinates me. If there's a Vietnamese term for medley of contrasting flavors and textures, I'd like to know. Herbs like ginger and cilantro play off salty, pungent fish sauce laced with palm sugar. Crunchy brown bits of fried shallot versus fresh green onion. Soft, gooey glutinous rice against fried bits of rice cracker. All in one dish. Fascinating, simple, and a lovely principle with which to feed loved ones.
Our waiter did a great job describing dishes we never tried, and suggested a few winners. He steered us away from one of the clam dishes, saying it's a Hue specialty that even some Vietnamese don't like.That's like waving a steak in front of a dog with this group. Yeah, we got it and loved it. He later revealed that he doesn't like this dish.
We started with banh beo, steamed rice cakes with shredded shrimp. Splashed with fish sauce flavored with hot chilis, these were terrific. The rice cake's neutral flavor plays with the slightly sweet fish sauce, the shrimp, and the crunchy fried shallot.
Next up: banh it ram, described inadequately on the menu as "potsticker stuffed with mushroom, and shrimp on crunchy rice cake." It's a clash of textures: a saucer shaped fried rice cake stuffed with shrimp and shrooms, and capped with steamed and pounded sticky rice that I can only describe as mochi's gooey cousin. Garnished with green onion and fried shallot, this was one of my favorite dishes. If you like mochi, definitely get it.
Soup was next: bun bo dac biet cha hue. Special Hue royal noodle soup with pork, beef, and pork patties. Hue style broth is somewhere between the clear beefy flavor of a good pho broth and the funky, fiery, pork-rich cauldron of red chili and lime of a Mexican pozole. This version came with substantially thick, cut pieces of rice noodle, well stewed pieces of pork, beef and pork patty. The pork patty here is like a skinless sausage, mildly flavored and unthreatening. I've had Hue style noodles at Thanh My, and their patty is a square of congealed pork blood. Complex, tart, tangy, herby and spicy.
Banh canh tom cua white noodle soup w/ crab and shrimp. The soup is pure essence of crab, tinted turmeric yellow, and slightly starch thickened. The thickener got in the way of an otherwise lovely soup, filled with thick hand cut noodles, crabmeat and seafood.
Com hen. Stir fried manila clams and vegetables with steamed rice. This is the dish our waiter warned us about. He called it a "jungle style" dish. Well, that's one jungle I'd like to spend more time in. With lots of shredded vegetables and fruit (pineapple!) supporting the steamed shreds of clam, it's practically a salad. It comes with a bowl of hot clam broth, chili paste, julienned ginger, and a pungent shrimp paste. For Viet customers, the kitchen mixes these components together, but they kept it separate for us gringos in case we didn't like any of them.
Anyway, the condiments are combined with the dish, and served with steamed rice. The crisp rice cracker studded with black sesame softens, and adds its character to the dish. Fabulous!
Mi guang. Yellow noodles w/ shrimp, pork, and mixed vegeables. This reminded me of a Thai dish, but with cleaner, more distinct flavors. The individual voices in a Thai dish sometimes get lost in the song. Vietnamese food flavors somehow remain distinct within a multilayered dish. Excellent!
We didn't try desserts from Quan Hy because Sandra brought treats from L.A.'s superchic new patisserie, Boule. Sandra lives practically around the corner from this very high end boutique of pastry. Lucky!
9727 Bolsa Ave
(inside the T & K plaza - see my Vietnamese Costco post)
This post is an excerpt of a more complete post w/ accompanying photos on my blog. Click below.
thanks for the great report. when i first saw the photo of banh it ram on your blog, i blurted out "mochi" (i've had mochi on the brain lately with all the special new years goodies spilling out from the aisles of nijiya mkt on sawtelle). those sound & look so good.
Excellent write-up, Professor. Quan Hy moves to the top of the list for my next Lil' Saigon foray.
Haven't had any Hue style food since---well----I was in Hue. I love Vietnamese food in general, but the whole Hue thing is a few notches more "refined", if you will. Your post perfectly captures that intangible quality I'm talking about...
Happy New Year.
My favorite dishes were the banh it ram, for the amazing mesh of flavors and textures -- and the com hen,a salad with minced clams and pineapple, served with clam broth over rice. I liked Quan Hy, definitely worth going back. Everything was very fresh tasting.
Prof. Salt, thanks so much for your report. Photos and musings on your blog are great. I wish I had taken more advantage of Westminster's rest. and markets when I lived in LA...oh well, will need to do that when I visit.
Quan Hy looks great. Hue food is very distinctive, and your meal highlighted the non-street food offerings of Viet food well IMO. Also loved seeing the Boule goodies and the pretty packaging. Those macaroons looked amazing! Look forward to future reports from that area...