Restaurants & Bars

San Francisco Bay Area Santa Rosa Laotian

Nam Kao and Kao Poon at Van Vieng Kham in Santa Rosa (Laotian)

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Nam Kao and Kao Poon at Van Vieng Kham in Santa Rosa (Laotian)

Melanie Wong | May 7, 2009 10:10 PM

Alerted to a severe accident and car fire blocking Hwy 101 near Petaluma, I decided to have a dinner stop in south Santa Rosa instead of getting stuck in traffic on the way back to the City. Just before 7pm on a Saturday, I was the only customer in the place for this return visit. I asked the owner about some of the Lao dishes, not on the menu, that she had mentioned my first time. I was especially interested in trying the kao poon, a curry rice noodle soup. The proprietress shook her head and pointed to an empty pot on the stove, saying that she’d just served the last portion. She checked in the back with her mother who said that she had some kao poon at home. A family member was dispatched to retrieve it.

Meanwhile, I snacked on an order of Nam Kao, crispy rice salad with sour lao-style sausage. Only the rice was not so crispy, more like the browned shards at the bottom of the pot., so I’m not sure I’d order this one again. Tasty though shot through with finely minced lemongrass, scallions, and other fresh green herbs, as well as julienned strips of pork skin and diced pink pork sausage that was akin to an unsmoked but cured ham. Once again, the accompanying herbs were as fresh as can be, and I enjoyed wrapped them up with some of the citrus-scented rice mix in the leaves of romaine lettuce. I’d like to know the name of the heart-shaped vine leaves rimmed with red that has a sour-ish taste.
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The Kao Poon included a long-simmered red curry soup flecked with pounded fish and chicken, bits of galangal, garlic, and lime leaf. The skinny rice noodles were served on the side, along with some dried red chili pods; a slaw of cabbage, carrots and bean sprouts; more dewy fresh green herbs (mint, rau ram, frilly cilantro, scallions); lemon; lime; dried red chili flakes; and coarsely ground, almost a paste, oily roasted peanuts.
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Now, this was worth waiting for. My first encounter with this dish, the tone of the red curry reminded me of Vietnamese bun bo hue but with more depth and robustness. The soup radiated the warmth and loving touch of a grandmother’s hand. I can’t say if this is the same as the kao poon usually served here, I just feel lucky that I had the chance to taste it.

Next time I hope to try the grilled beef tongue, and if it’s a weekend, the raw farm beef laab with book tripe.

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Vang Vieng Kham
3446 Santa Rosa Ave, Santa Rosa, CA

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