Stuffed plump with crab, shrimp, and pork, then deep-fried twice for maximum blistering, these rolls induced swoons from everyone at the table. Even when tightly wrapped in lettuce and herbs and dunked with abandon in chili-spiked nuoc cham, the cha gio remained unbeatably crisp, the translucent rice paper wrappers shattering with each bite.
Archive for the 'Orange County' Category
I’ve been thinking a lot about Pok Pok’s Vietnamese fish sauce wings since my trip to Portland last fall. The perfect marriage of crispy chicken and potent nuoc mam, these unforgettable wings left my fingers sticky, my lips lacquered, and my stomach craving more.
Since jetting off to The Beaver State whenever a hankering hits isn’t very practical, I am on a mission to find a local source for similarly delectable wings. First stop: Cafe Artist in Orange County. This spot came recommended to me by Anh, a Gastronomy reader.
Located in the same Little Saigon strip mall as Vien Dong restaurant, Cafe Artist is one of the most popular quan nhau (watering holes) in the neighborhood. The place opens at 1:30 PM and stays bumpin’ till late.
The Astronomer and I, along with my friend Anne, came in for lunch and snagged a table on the patio. I’d heard that it gets loud and smokey once the regular crowd files in, so I was quite pleased that we had the place to ourselves at this hour.
We ordered five dishes between the three of us and managed to finish them all. First up was a hefty platter of oc len xao dua ($11.99),
cockles sea snails simmered in an irresistible lemongrass, red curry, and coconut broth.
As instructed by our waitress, we sucked with all our might to release the cockles from their shells. Mmm! Bowls of steamed rice were requested to make good use of the fabulous broth.
The Astronomer and I crossed county lines for a taste of Sidecar Doughnuts & Coffee, and boy was the trek worth it.
Located in a “nice” strip mall in Costa Mesa, Sidecar has been wowing Orange County residents with their yeast-raised, cake, and buttermilk old-fashioned doughnuts since debuting just a year ago.
The shop is a collaborative effort between Chef Brooke Des Prez, Sumter Pendergrast (an artist and clothing designer), and Chi-lin Pendergrast (a photographer). It’s no wonder that the space and design elements here are as impressive as the doughnuts!
Our friend and O.C. resident Kat showed us the ropes on our inaugural visit; lucky girl lives down the street.
The Astronomer and I dined at Ngự Bình Restaurant earlier this summer while in Little Saigon for a very special wedding. With three hours to fill in between the ceremony and reception, we decided to stuff ourselves silly with Vietnamese food.
Little Saigon is slightly too far for us to explore on the regular, so we had to seize this opportunity to dine on the best Vietnamese food this side of the Pacific.
In the midst of all the wedding chaos, the bride and groom were kind enough to point us to Ngự Bình for Central Vietnamese cuisine. Here, chef and owner Mai Tran prepares family recipes that she learned in her hometown of Thua Thien. The delicate steamed dumplings and complex noodle soups that hail from this region never fail to make me swoon.
The first dish to land on our table was the mit xuc banh trang ($6.25). The young jackfruit salad was served warm with a smattering of Vietnamese coriander (rau ram), slivers of pork, and crushed peanuts. We scooped up the salad using the crisp sesame crackers and delivered the goods swiftly to our mouths. A bit of fish sauce was all that was needed to set the flavors properly ablaze.