Thanks much to yoyo for recommending Thien An - it is, indeed, a really great Vietnamese roast catfish. Medium order - $38 - will easily feed three people. It's kind of perfect - moist, dense, dank, very feral catfish flavor. This is *not* farm-raised Western catfish. It's not scary, but it's definitely on the side of gamey. It has the funk, this catfish does.
Skin is... like a sugar shell, shatteringly crisp, about the highest level of crunchy imaginable, kind of like perfect Chinese roast pork skin but thinner about four times crispier, and ever so slightly crisp.
Rolled up with herbs and pickles in rice paper roll, it's a great dinner. Outermost layer: crisp lettuce. 2nd outer layer: soft moistened rice paper. Inner layer: herbs. Inner layer 2: moist, juicy catfish. Innermost layer: a little bit of ultra-crisp catfish skin. Sort of a journey of the teeth, through the Seven Levels of Tasty Heaven, in each bite.
I had the beef salad, too - opening dish from the seven courses of beef. (The place proclaims itself to be a seven course beef joint.) It is nice, and clean, but a little boring compared to other 7-courses-of-beef joints.
Ambiance: mildly run-down banquet hall, colored in peach and a cheap washed-out green that you might call "jade", if you were really generous and more than a little buzzed. I could easily imagine a fight breaking out at a late night wedding between some drunk Viet youths. There is a strange slash high up on the wall. There is venison and boar on the menu. My friend Lennon complained that the vibe was strange - simultaneously mildly run-down, and yet very... peach. She also kept lifting bits of the catfish to her nose and taking deep inhales and saying that it was very, very strange - like no fish she'd smelled before, but like something else, something from her childhood. To this Viet boy, who grew up in the Viet half-gang neighborhoods of San Jose, it felt absolutely and totally right.
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