I recently learned that my friend Evelina‘s family eats Vietnamese-style roasted catfish (cá nướng da dòn) in place of turkey every Thanksgiving and Christmas. As anyone who’s ever experienced this crackly and caramelized preparation can attest, twice a year is simply not enough. When a major craving hits and the holidays aren’t in sight, Evelina grabs a table at Thiên Ân Bò 7 Món in Rosemead. It’s certainly not as good as grandma’s homemade version, but the catfish here is still pure “scrumptiousness.” Evelina’s words, not mine.
When a sudden hankering surfaced a few weeks back, The Astronomer and I were on hand to join the catfish queen for dinner at Thiên Ân. A gaudily framed photo of the famed dish greeted us as we walked through the front door. Flanking it on both sides were glowing write-ups from the Los Angeles Times. It’s no secret that this place is delicious.
Evelina called a few hours before our arrival to order a medium-sized catfish ($39) for our party of six. Our whiskered guest of honor was placed before us soon after we received our drinks. If you forget to call ahead, it can take up to 30 minutes for the fish to be prepared. Trust me, the wait is worth it.
Strewn with fresh cilantro and smothered in scallion oil, the roasted catfish was wonderfully fragrant. Its white flesh was flaky and tender, while its skin was honeyed and taut. We tore into its sides without abandon, grabbing hunks of meat with our chopsticks to wrap in our herb- and noodle-filled rice papers.
The fish’s sweet flavors paired nicely with the pungent mắm nêm (fermented anchovy dip), but we all preferred the mellower nước chấm. Pickled lemongrass, crushed peanuts, green bananas, star fruit, cucumbers, bean sprouts, and all the herbs and greens we could handle were on hand for our garnishing pleasure. I fancied the roasted catfish best on a bed of cool vermicelli and doused with nước chấm.
To round out our fishin’ feast, Evelina ordered three of her favorite bò 7 món (seven courses of beef) courses. The bò lá lốt were plump and deftly spiced. The Astronomer and I monopolized the plate because these are one of our all-time favorite Vietnamese treats.
We also shared a plate of chả đùm, steamed meatballs made of ground beef, glass noodles, and peanuts. Crunchy shrimp crackers were used to scoop up the tender meat.
And finally, a plate of bò mỡ chài, grilled meatballs wrapped in caul fat. As is characteristic of this indulgent dish, the meatballs were rich, fatty, and all sorts of amazing. Evelina’s right, Thiên Ân’s bò 7 món is superior to Vietnam Restaurant‘s.
As is customary when we visit stateside Vietnamese restaurants, The Astronomer and I departed into the night with our bellies much too full and with bags of leftovers in hand.
Thiên Ân Bò 7 Món
8837 Valley Boulevard
Rosemead, CA 91770
I am submitting this entry to Delicious Vietnam, a monthly blogging event celebrating Vietnamese cuisine created by Anh of A Food Lovers Journey and Hong and Kim of Ravenous Couple. This month’s host is my wonderful friend Nina of [email protected]. For instructions on how to participate, visit the Delicious Vietnam information page.