I've been on Chowhound a long time... by the time we switched over to CNet, I had already put in four or five years and many, many restaurant reviews: some formal, some informal. Some of you know that I'm not exactly harsh on most places. If anything, I'm too forgiving with restaurants that others pan. I've eaten in some pretty "meh" restaurants, and I've written long reviews that amounted to "$RESTAURANT... meh." I've never written a scathing review, though.
Until now. So sit back and relax, because the horror is just beginning.
I was all set to go get one of those pizzas from Luigi's D'Italia that I swear is made with crack cocaine in the sausage. It's close, it's fast, the people are friendly, the pizza is great. But then I logged onto Chowhound and saw eatdrinknbemerry telling me about his (or her, I'm sorry, I don't know) favourite Chaozhou restaurant, called Trieu Chau, in Santa Ana on 1st and Newhope (the same plaza as the famed Newport Seafood for those keeping track).
But he didn't mention until I'd already got back that they close at 5 PM (which, between my work location and my work hours, pretty much means that I will never eat at Trieu Chau). Nothing daunted, I locked my doors against the random men standing in the shadows of the side street next to Newport Seafood, whipped out my BlackBerry for a quick search and found out there was a "New Trieu Chau" on Westminster Boulevard.
Off I went, visions of muay (not sure how you actually spell that, the Cantonese call it "chiuchow jook"), the seafoody, savoury, delicately-flavoured rice porridge that, along with tiet kwun yum oolong tea, is the signature of Chiuchow cuisine. Every Chiuchow restaurant I've ever been to serves it instead of rice, usually for a very small surcharge.
I pull into the parking lot -- good, it's busy. I then read the sign on the window: "HU TIEU NAM VANG". I don't WANT noodle soup. So I peruse the menu and sure enough, five kinds of chao (the Vietnamese word for porridge), including "House Porridge", with "mixed seafood". I sit down, and instantly a fork and a picture menu appear. The picture menu is put face down on the table, and the waiter pointed at... a hamburger and fries. I gave him a very cold look and very pointedly moved the hated picture menu and the fork to the other side of the table.
"I can read the menu without the pictures," I said, "and I don't want a hamburger. I want house porridge and a dau cha quay [Chinese salty donut]."
"No more what, chao? Or dau cha quay?"
"We have chao, no more donut."
"Okay... how about sieu mai [the next thing on the list]?"
"No more. You like fish cake instead."
"Fine. Also give me ca phe sua da [Vietnamese iced coffee]."
Hot tea arrived in a plastic cold drink cup. Way to go, guys -- you couldn't afford the 30-cent teacups from 99 Ranch, so instead I'm drinking warm, sweetened (ick!) Chinese tea from a Solo cup?
The porridge arrived, and it LOOKED tasty -- fried shallots, green onions, and small shreds of ginger floating on an ocean of white porridge. Unfortunately, it tasted like absolutely nothing. I've eaten jook enough to know what it's supposed to taste like, and I've eaten Chiuchow jook enough to know what IT'S supposed to taste like. It's not meant to be strongly-flavoured; it's meant to fill a belly, and it's great when you're sick because it's not going to knock you down with a big pungent hit of whatever. This tasted like water. There were little shrimp floating in it. Even dipped in the ubiquitous Vietnamese staple of pepper and lime, they tasted like rubber water balls. The (whole) squid had the beak left in. And then there was the liver. I wasn't expecting liver, so I took a big bite. What a mistake -- I had to chug an entire Solo cupful of the weird tea to wash it down.
There was a throat-clearing from above me, as the waiter set down a shaker of salt and a red squeeze bottle. "Well," I thought, "chili sauce is a little weird in jook, but at least it will taste like SOMETHING." So I squeezed a bit into a clean sauce dish to see how hot it was -- and it was ketchup. KETCHUP. They gave me KETCHUP for my PORRIDGE. I couldn't believe it. I got up and took the ketchup to the cashier, a look of utter scorn on my face. "You can keep this," I sneered in Cantonese, "I don't want it."
By the time I'd sat down, my fish cakes had shown up -- ten of them (!!) with a plate of salted cabbage and a thin, chile-spiked sauce. This would have been fine, except that they were burning hot around the edge and stone cold in the centre. I sent it back with a snarl of, "You can't make hot food?" I heard a microwave running for what must have been three minutes, and the cakes came back RIPPING hot. Once they'd cooled down past "napalm", I tried eating one. I literally could not make my teeth pierce the skin of these fish patties. I tried spearing one with my chopsticks, in pretty much direct violation of every Asian etiquette rule in existence, and it went flying off the table in a streak of grease. I finally took the hated fork, speared a second one, and successfully ripped it in half -- with my hands. I dipped and nibbled -- Goodyear has nothing on these little rounds of fish; if you bounced one outside, you'd send it into orbit.
Finally, my coffee showed up, already made hot, with a glass containing four ice cubes. I mixed it, poured it over, and took a slug. It was as bitter as wormwood. I could not drink it.
I gave up. New Trieu Chau won. I paid the bill ($13.50!!), left the change from $15 on the counter, and walked out. I went to Van's Bakery and had a sinh to [shake] to get the taste out of my mouth. As I sucked down the mango shake, the girl behind the counter said, "What is wrong?" When I told her where I had eaten, she laughed and said, "Next time have pho when you're sick!"
I assume Trieu Chau couldn't be this bad or it wouldn't have been recommended, which leads to one conclusion only: New Trieu Chau didn't split from Trieu Chau, it was rejected by its host body. I should have eaten pizza.
Don't go. Good Chowhounds don't let Chowhounds eat bad food.
New Trieu Chau Restaurant
9902 Westminster Boulevard (corner of Brookhurst)
Garden Grove, CA 92844