I had lunch here again, with 2 adventurous co-workers. It was excellent, and this time service was efficient, vigilant, and I wasnt ignored (maybe they saw my notes that I accidentally left behind last time?). Plus the owner/manager came and chatted with us several times to explain the dishes and northern viet cuisine in general. We had:
Nem Ran fried spring rolls
Goi Ca Raw Fish Salad
Nom Rau Muong Mixed salad with ong choy (water spinach)
Bo Luc Lac Shaking Beef
Total before tip was $45, including $9 for 3 fruit shakes, and had enough leftovers to feed a 4th person.
The spring rolls here are made with thin-style rice paper wrappers (made in Hanoi). By the way this is Nem Ran, the northern style spring rolls, and not Cha Gio (which they also do here, for which they use a different wrapper). Filling was fresh crab, black mushrooms and a little mien (glass noodles). Wrapper was crispy on the outside, but a little chewy on the inner side. Might not be fried to order (might be pre-fried then flash-fried to order). But I really liked the filling, it had more oomph than usual. And guess what? Nuoc Cham Dipping sauce was not sweet!!
The raw fish salad was the star today. The fish is cooked by the lime in the dressing (like ceviche). Neither the server or owner could tell us what kind of fish it is. The flesh was not flaky, it was more like lobster (!!). It had some chew but wasnt chewy-tough. A lot of finely chopped peanuts and herbs including rau ram & mint. And a blanket of crispy house-fried shallots. Served with shrimp chips that are perfectly fried up. I only wouldve liked less raw purple onion. I learned that there is a northern Vietnamese dish like sashimi, its sliced fish (made from live fish), topped with a dressing made of a kind of fermented rice. Here they dont use live fish, but she looks for really fresh fish for this dish.
The mixed ong choy salad is very different but very tasty. I learned this is traditionally a dish of the poor in the country. Since they were poor, they couldnt afford jellyfish. So they took pork skin, removed all fat, and cooked it gently to the texture of jellyfish and cut it into strands like jellyfish. It looks just like long shaved slices of onion, but its pork skin. Its also got cooked ong choy, julienned lean pork, halved shrimp, chopped vietnamese mint (kinh gioi), & sesame seeds, in a fish-sauce based dressing. I think I also detected ground toasted rice. I didnt totally enjoy the strands of pork skin. It didnt have the exact texture of jellyfish, but didnt have the texture of pork skin either. I like another kind of Vietnamese sliced pork skin, called bi, better. But the rest of the salad was great. I love the kinh gioi herb, tasting like a cross between lemon basil, mint and shiso.
The shaking beef was ordered because I wasnt sure how adventurous my co-workers were, and I knew theyve liked this elsewhere before. Except for the anemic tomatoes, its a good version. The beef tasted long-marinated, and was tender. It had a little less attention to detail than the other dishes.
There were only a couple other tables today (and a younger crowd than my last visit), but I was told they get families coming in for dinner. World cup game on TV again. I noticed they have free WiFi. Oh, and the fruit shakes arent very good. Actually theyre very good if you like vanilla ice cream better than fruit. Except for the durian (whew!) theyre weak on fruitiness, and strong on creaminess. But overall the 3 of us enjoyed it and one of my coworkers is planning to bring her friends here.
By the way, I was stupid and forgot to bring my list of specials translated to English. I wanted to correct any mistakes (of which Im sure there are some). Sorry!
Photo of the star dish (fish salad) below, and the other dishes on the Kodak link.