Feb 2014

Cafe Artist – Garden Grove

Cafe Artist Restaurant - Garden Grove

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.

Cafe Artist Restaurant - Garden Grove

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.

Cafe Artist Restaurant - Garden Grove

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.

Cafe Artist Restaurant - Garden Grove

Also terrific was the xoi chien lap xuong ($9.95), a raft of crispy-fried sticky rice topped with scallion oil, Chinese sausage, and plenty of pork floss. Spicy soy sauce was served on the side. Anne declared this one her favorite.

Cafe Artist Restaurant - Garden Grove

The Astronomer and I had high hopes for the cua lot rang me ($14.99), tamarind soft shell crab, but alas, it didn’t quite hit the mark. While the flavor was swell enough, it was hard to make out the delicate soft shells amid the too-thick and too-crunchy batter. A shame. The Crab Shack calls…

Cafe Artist Restaurant - Garden Grove

The so long nuong ($13.99), grilled bloody clams slathered with scallion oil and toasted peanuts, transported The Astronomer and me right back to the street-side seafood joints we used to frequent in Saigon.

Cafe Artist Restaurant - Garden Grove

The final dish on the scene was the canh ga chien nuoc mam ($11.99), chicken wings and drumettes tossed in a balanced blend of fish sauce, sugar, chili flakes, and sliced white onions. While the caramelized wings were a complete delight to eat, the flavors were tamer than Pok Pok’s funkier beast.

It’s been a while since I’ve had my fill of Vietnamese pub grub, and our midday meal at Cafe Artist totally scratched that itch! Next stop:  Quan Gio

Where else should I get my fish sauce wangs on?

Artist Restaurant
14281 Brookhurst Street
Garden Grove, CA 92843

One year ago: Mile End Sandwich – New York City
Two years ago: Hungry Cat – Los Angeles (Hollywood)
Three years ago: Mori Sushi – Los Angeles
Four years ago: Amaro Bar at Osteria Mozza – Los Angeles
Five years ago: Bake-Sale Brownies
Six years ago: The Art of Making Bánh Chưng
Seven years ago: Naked Chocolate Cafe – Philadelphia

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10 thoughts on “Cafe Artist – Garden Grove

  1. Great article, Cathy! Looks delicious.

    Just a little quibble – cockles are a bivalve/clam, so the mollusks you ate are probably actually some sort of sea snail.

  2. Good to hear that you enjoyed your experience at Artist! ^_^ They are indeed not known for their wings, in fact most places in little Saigon really aren’t, but everything is quite tasty so it was still worth a try. If you are going to be in the area again, you may also want to stop by Binh Dan. It’s a super old school watering hole that specializes in 7 courses of goat! Not only is this a specialty that isn’t seen anywhere else in LS or LA, but the kicker is that they own their own goat farm and source the meat from there. Not many Viet places can lay claim to that. I’m not overly fond of all 7 courses, but the De nuong mo chai va la lot is delicious! It’s like they combined the two best beef courses (bo la lot and bo mo chai)into one, by dicing the la lot and mixing it into the goat meat and then wrapping everything in caul fat. Drool worthy when dipped in mam tom!! They’ve got other tasty treats on the menu too that are sure to remind you of Vietnam,including the decor, but do go for the de la lot if you drop by. Reading this post makes me hungry…

  3. Never seen the xoi chien before and that looks really yummy! Definitely something I can get behind.

  4. Cathy – just went to Pok Pok last week and unfortunately was a little let down by the wings (everything else was fantastic though). My expectations were through the roof as I had previously made this recipe (http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/ikes-vietnamese-fish-sauce-wings-cocktails-2008) at last years 4th of July. After marinating the wings overnight, My only alternation was that we grilled the wings directly on the grill.

    The mint, cilantro and fried garlic on top really set the dish off and I was surprised to see that the restaurants version didn’t have the herbs, nor very much garlic.

    I’d recommend that if you have a fix, just make them yourself! You really don’t need to fry them – as my 15 fellow 4th of July-ers can attest to!

  5. Like Anh, I read this and instantly thought of Bình Dân! Goat is the specialty here, and dê 7 món is definitely worth another trip to Little Saigon. There are lots of other interesting dishes (clams, sea snails, pig intestines, goat udders…), and cheap beer is brought out with glasses of ice, which is kinda funny, but kinda awesome at the same time.

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