Linh Phuong Nguyen makes my favorite bowl of southern style pho bo (Vietnamese beef noodle soup) at Phở Filet, a worn-in restaurant straddling the border between Rosemead and South El Monte. While the filet mignon that comes standard with every bowl is a cut above the rest, it’s Ms. Nguyen’s unparalleled broth that distinguishes her product from the dozens of pho hawkers in town.
Archive for the 'El Monte' Category
Heaven is located 9.7 miles from my house on an industrial stretch in South El Monte. Don’t believe me? Well, then you’ve probably never tasted freshly made burrata from Gioia Cheese, an Italian-style fromagerie owned and operated by Vito Girardi since 1992. The unassuming factory churns out 2,000 pounds of the creamiest, stringiest, most delectable burrata daily and delivers it to restaurants across the country. Gioia is one of a small number of domestic burrata producers, and best of all, its wares are available for sale to the public.
I’ve been meaning to procure a hefty stash for months, but didn’t make the trip until my mom rolled into town to celebrate her 58th birthday. My present to her was a three-course celebratory feast, and gooey mounds of burrata were slated for the starter. A half-pound probably would’ve sufficed for the evening’s meal, but I went ahead and hoarded two pounds for good measure ($6 per pound).
I blasted the AC on the car ride home and refrigerated the tubs as soon as I arrived at the apartment. Without any preservatives in the product, I wasn’t taking any chances with spoilage. For those unfamiliar with burrata, here’s a quick primer from the article “Burrata di Andria” by Gary Allen on Leite’s Culinaria:
Burrata cheese begins life like other mozzarellas, with rennet used to curdle the warm milk. Whereas for fresh mozzarella the curds are plunged into hot whey or lightly salted water, kneaded, pulled to develop the familiar stretchy strings (pasta filata), and then shaped into whatever forms, during the making of burrata the still-hot cheese is instead formed into a pouch which is filled with scraps of leftover mozzarella and topped off with fresh, rich cream, called panna.
Even though I’ve eaten burrata dozens of times at restaurants, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I cracked open the lid. The cheese was pristinely white with rounded edges and a smooth surface. The perfection of it all reminded me of a cityscape after a fresh snow fall. Burrata inspires the poet in me.
When my mom swung into town recently for her monthly business trip, she requested that we dine at a Vietnamese restaurant specializing in vegetarian fare. While my mom is normally a happy omnivore, she was abstaining from meat for the first month of the Lunar New Year. A quick search on Yelp yielded Veggie Life Restaurant in South El Monte—an area of town with a heavy concentration of Vietnamese Americans.
From the second we walked into the eatery, we knew we were in for a treat. Like all of the area’s great Vietnamese restaurants, this one had a comfortable and informal vibe that reminded me of Saigon—food prep was taking place on tables unoccupied by diners and the staff greeted us with smiles.
The key to excellent Vietnamese vegetarian fare is a killer mock nuoc cham (fish sauce based vinaigrette). Veggie Life’s nuoc cham really hit the mark, especially when doused atop our starter, the goi ngo sen (lotus stem salad). Our favorite elements of the salad were the generous amounts of fresh herbs and the chewy strands of agar.
For my main course, I chose the chef’s “six delights” rice platter. Count ‘em!
The six delights included lemongrass “beef,” “chicken” drumstick, “pork” loaf, tofu skin wrapped “meat,” “fish” loaf, and thinly shredded “pork.” I am an all-around fan of mock meats and thus enjoyed this compilation platter very much, especially the tofu skin roll and the drumstick. The portions at Veggie Life are livin’ large, so The Astronomer had to help me finish it.
My rice platter was served with a hot bowl of nuoc leo—a simple vegetable stock.
My mom indulged in a tasty bowl of bun bo Hue—a spicy beef noodle soup from the city of Hue. It’s hard to match the robust flavors of meaty bun bo, but this veggie version held it’s own. Fresh lemongrass provided the bulk of the broth’s flavors.
The Astronomer surprised us all by ordering banh xeo—Vietnamese crepe stuffed with mushrooms and bean sprouts. The banh xeo was served with huge lettuce leaves for wrapping, a plethora of herbs for garnishing, and a bowl of nuoc cham for dipping. The Astronomer was very happy with his selection and wrapped, garnished, and dipped his banh xeo like a seasoned veteran. I thought that the banh xeo was really oily, but I must admit that banh xeo wouldn’t quite be banh xeo if it didn’t leave one’s hands and lips glistening with slick grease.
Veggie Life Restaurant
9324 Garvey Ave #B
South El Monte, CA 91733