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Nha Toi (San Jose) - Vietnamese worth a detour, maybe even a special journey...

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Nha Toi (San Jose) - Vietnamese worth a detour, maybe even a special journey...

daveena | Mar 3, 2009 06:19 AM

Had a fantastic dinner here last weekend. One of the best Vietnamese meals I’ve had, if not the best. The menu is packed with things I’ve never seen on any other menu – it was hard to narrow down our choices enough so that we wouldn’t overwhelm our small party. I was really impressed with everything – flavors were clear, complex, balanced, and fresh. I didn’t record the Vietnamese names of the dishes – I was able to find some of the names from past reports, and will have to just describe the rest.

Chicken wings marinated in fish sauce, fried in butter – the paper napkins provided don’t quite hold up to the buttery residue these wings leave on your fingers, but no matter. These were savory little morsels, and a great way to start the evening.

Goi Ca - a sort of raw fish larb – small pieces of chopped fish, well seasoned with lime juice, sugar and fish sauce, topped with fragrant herbs, sesame seeds, chili, red onion and fried shallot, and served with fried shrimp chips. Really well balanced – the memory of an overacidic ceviche at Mochica in SF is still fresh in my mind, so I really appreciated the expert seasoning on this dish.

Ca Nuc Kho Mia – Norwegian mackerel, braised in a brown caramel-based sauce, with a legitimate chili kick. This was delicious – the fish was meltingly soft, and the sauce was by far the most compelling of this type I’ve ever had. We soaked it up with bits of a crispy rice cake (Com Chay).

Sweet and sour soup – a seemingly simple fish broth that revealed depth and complexity as I sipped it – it comes to the table over Sterno with just the fish and chunks of pineapple in it. It’s accompanied by a large platter of raw tomato, bean sprouts, loofah, okra, and an herb I couldn’t identify, all to be added to the soup by the diner once the broth comes to a boil.

The gratis dessert was a warm version of 3-color bean drink – pureed yellow bean, coconut milk, tapioca, a few colored jellies. Simple, sweet and satisfying after a meal of pungent (yet somehow refined) flavors.

I’m definitely planning to go back – it’s worth the drive from Oakland. I actually timed myself driving back to see how realistic it was – without traffic, it’s only 45 minutes… I’ll offset my carbon footprint some other way.

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