Thursday night, as you may know, is Ubergeek Chowhound Night. Mrs Ubergeek stays up in the Valley for yoga and I go home and find something to try. We had an extra Chowhound Night this week because I didn't work late on Monday like usual. (I am somewhat of a creature of habit.)
I drove to work today, and didn't get to leave until 17.15, so it took me until almost 19.00 to get home and feed the dog. I was so hungry I was nearly cross-eyed, but I wanted to continue my Brookhurst meanderings.
"It's really not that far away," I told myself, "there will be no traffic on the 22."
I passed Super Bowl Teriyaki. "NO! You have been there." Taqueria Las Mulitas -- you could have food in like twenty seconds! "NO! We are GOING to BROOKHURST." Then I passed the sign for pizza at Niberino's and had to force myself not to turn round right in the middle of Ball Road. If there had been traffic through the Crush I think I would have cried.
Ten minutes after I got on the freeway I was sitting parked in front of Vien Dong restaurant as suggested by elmomonster. There were two people inside eating. Both looked like employees. My heart sank and I wondered whether he had played me false. Nevertheless, I screwed up my courage -- how bad could it be? -- and went in.
I sat down and a fork arrived. Damn it.
"We don't have pho."
"Toi khong muon pho. Mot it bun cha ha noi, chen ca phe sua da, chen nuoc." ["I don't want pho. An order of bun cha, a glass of iced coffee and a glass of water."]
The waiter retired and bawled the order into the kitchen. Two minutes later out comes a massive plate of spring rolls.
"Nononono... not cha gio, bun cha."
An old man comes running out of the kitchen, his Vietnamese so fast I couldn't catch it.
The waiter says, "My grandfather wants you to try his spring rolls, they are the best in Little Saigon."
"Thank you -- [wrap wrap dip munch munch] -- they're EXCELLENT." And they were. Made with rice paper, not with wonton wrappers, they had that crinkly skin that is the hallmark of true cha gio (or, since we're in a Northern Vietnamese restaurant here, nem ran).
By the time I was finished with the cha gio, the bun cha came out. A huge pile of herbs -- perilla leaf, mint, rau om (what is the name of this in English?), and of course lettuce. On another plate, banh bun (rice noodles). And then the pièce de résistance [piece of resistance], grilled pork and pork meatball patties, grilled just barely to char, swimming in green papaya fish sauce.
Now, the dilemma. How to eat it? If you try to roll it like cha gio, you will get food all over yourself. If you use the plate and bowl, you'll get fish sauce everywhere. I opted for the latter.
I put the first bite in my mouth and was overcome. The flavour was like nothing I've ever tasted. It was an explosion. I sat there, completely oblivious to the world, until the waiter tapped me on the shoulder to get me to move so he could set down my coffee.
"Oh, my GAWD."
I didn't care if I was eating it "right" (would anyone like to set me straight here?). I didn't care what went on in the world. I was oblivious to the random Vietnamese variety show blaring out of the television above me. When I next looked up, I found the entire restaurant was full -- and not a few people were watching me mow down the plate of food. I went up to the counter, paid ($7!!), thanked the old man (and the Japanese have nothing on the Vietnamese when they're bowing in thanks, my goodness) and left in a daze. It was... incredible. It was the best Vietnamese food I've ever had. They gave me a menu ("the prices are wrong but the food is right") and just reading it is making me drool.
As I headed home, my hands smelling of sauce and grilled meat, I passed Niberino's. I like Niberino's, don't get me wrong, but I'm so glad I passed it by tonight.
Nha Hang Vien Dong
14271 Brookhurst St.
Garden Grove, CA 92843