**This article is featured in the OC Register**
Xanh Bistro is tucked in the corner of a larger strip mall with no signage to alert you to it from the street, so if you’re not looking for it, you won’t find it. But let me tell you that this is a gem of a restaurant you definitely need to go in search of because you won’t regret it.
The food here can be construed as modern Vietnamese, but the only thing modern here is the presentation and attention to detail that Chef Haley Nguyen puts into every dish that hits your table. The food itself is as traditional and authentic as one can find in lil Saigon but your food won’t be carelessly dumped on your table, nor would the staff treat you with nonchalant disrespect. Here the service and food go hand in hand to give you a complete experience.
There are ubiquitous items on the menu such as cuon (rolls) and there are many to choose from. Salads are innovative and the intricate preparations are not lost on me. I see the julienned banana blossoms in the Goi Hua Chuoi, along with the daikon and carrots and everything else in the salad that require so much knife-work for it to be this simple and refreshing salad, but more on this later,
Chef Nguyen will be the first to tell you that Vietnamese food requires a lot of preparation but the end result is well worth it. Nguyen also runs cooking classes which teaches eager students easy ways to prepare Vietnamese meals at home (check out the website for more information).
|squash blossom salad|
Refreshing salads are very popular in Vietnamese cuisine and almost every restaurant will offer some sort of salad on its menu. Goi Hua Chuoi, or banana blossom salad is one such salad. Banana blossoms are found on the condiment plate when you eat bun bo hue, a beef noodle soup from Hue, the old capital city of imperial Vietnam, and have a nice crunch to it, which makes it ideal in a salad. Here, Nguyen adds pickled daikon and carrots, Vietnamese mint, peanuts, sesame seeds, shrimp and grilled pork. All the ingredients tossed in a dressing made with nuoc mam, or fish sauce, it is the perfect way to tease and whet your palate for whatever else to come.
Com Chay Thit Nuong is an appetizer comprising of crispy rice and grilled pork. Chunks of jasmine rice, deep fried until crispy is topped with pieces of flavorful grilled pork to give this dish not only great flavor, but also, great texture. Crispy rice is always delicious regardless of what cuisine it comes from, whether the bottom of a Korean bibimbap pot, part of Chinese sizzling rice soup, or this, I love it all. This appetizer is definitely something I would order over and over again!
One of my favorite Vietnamese dishes is Cha Ca Thanh Long, dill fish. I’ve had it in so many restaurants in lil Saigon….. usually whitefish is preferred ranging from catfish to snapper, but the best ones are seasoned impeccably and cooked to perfection, moist and flaky. The fresh dill brings an added dimension to the dish and is the primary factor in the wondrous aromatic finish of the fish. Bun, or rice vermicelli, along with lettuce, peanuts and special black sesame crackers are served alongside this dish to be assembled before eating. A bowl of special shrimp paste sauce is served alongside for dousing purposes. Although the one at Xanh isn’t pungent enough for my tastes, it will be accepted by the majority of people because it is mild yet flavorful enough to enhance the ingredients.
I also got to sample the Bo Ham Ngu Vi — five-spice braised short ribs — which reminded so much of a dish my mother makes. It was not surprising then when I found out that this dish has its roots from Chinese cuisine and although Nguyen’s version isn’t as intense as my mother’s, it was beautifully paired with garlic mustard greens. The meat was tender and it was obvious it had been slow cooked for hours.
Chef Nguyen also makes her own ice cream in-house so if you have room, by all means try the ginger ice cream! It is delicious! There were so many other enticing dishes on the menu I had wanted to try, but unfortunately, there is only so much my stomach can endure in one sitting. I am already eagerly anticipating my next visit and I am planning on bringing along some friends so we can order more dishes to share.
Xanh Bistro, 16161 Brookhurst Street, Fountain Valley, CA 92780. Tel: 714-531-2030