This past weekend 7 of us got together at Grand Century Mall in San Jose, some of us for the first time, others to see if past favorites were still good. We went to Pho Thien Long, Thanh Da Restaurant, and the deli/café next to Hai Thanh Supermarket. Below are the dishes we ordered at the first two places; I had to leave after that, so someone else will report on the banh mi at the deli/café. By the way, all 3 places are reported on in the Chowhound Guide Book so dont miss out on those good tips in the book!
At Pho Thien Long:
#38 Cha Ca La Vong, 2 orders
Grilled catfish, served on a metal plate over a small burner. Served with: rice vermicelli, green leaf lettuce, cucumber, cilantro, green & purple shiso, sesame rice cracker, and nuoc cham sauce.
#41 Lau Thien Long
Vietnamese hot pot with 2 broths (one mild, one slightly spicey), served on a gas burner. Comes with with cook-your-own prawns, squid, Basa (kind of flounder), thin-sliced beef flank, and the menu says chicken but we got mussels in our serving. Also with fresh mustard greens, napa cabbage, egg noodle, wide rice noodle, and a slightly sweetened soy dipping sauce.
Total came to $9 each.
At Thanh Da Restaurant:
#7 Chao (Plain Rice Porridge)
Note: The porridge in #1-8 on the Menu is the broth-based flavored kind. The porridge in #13 and #14 on the Menu is the water-based white kind, with a choice of 3 toppings from the list in the menu. We ordered the brothy kind, without any toppings (hence Plain).
#9 Goi Vit (Duck Salad)
Boiled duck (the Large order comes with a half duck), over thinly sliced purple and green cabbage and chopped rau ram herb. Served with ginger lime nuoc cham sauce.
#7 Long Doi (Pork Intestines)
This was a charcuterie plate that included thinly sliced pork stomach, intestines, sliced pork blood sausage and I might be missing something else. All boiled or steamed, not fried.
From the Specials on the wall: Com Bo Luc Lac (Rice Plate with Shaking Beef)
Flash fried cubes of beef and a few chopped bell peppers, served on a bed of lettuce, garnished with sliced tomato and cucumber, and served with a big scoop of rice.
Total came to $7 each, including a few drinks.
The Cha Ca is still top-notch in my book. Catfish did not taste muddy at all, plate of veggies was really generous, and having it on a mini grill means a nice char & it stayed hot. Extra points for sliced young papaya in the nuoc cham. Minor miss: sesame cracker instead of shrimp cracker, and it was crunchy hard. The menu says it serves 2, but I think thats only if youre not ordering anything else.
The Lau (hot pot) is a good version here. I really liked the spicy broth (it wasnt really spicy) over the plainer one, but both broths had a deep flavor that seemed sweet from meat bones. The beef was tender, even the slices that were cooked to fully done. The prawns were quite large. The fish was ok but I wouldve liked a different kind with less of a fish-taste.
I thought the beef in the Shaking Beef at Thanh Da is as good as Three Seasons, but not as good as Anise Café (in San Jose). I havent had this dish at Slanted Door or Tamarine. It was a very tender cut even though cooked to well done. The marinade tastes less complex than at Anise Café. The presentation is just ok (very anemic roma tomato slices). The serving seemed small but it seems thats the par anywhere for this dish. What I really loved was the rice. It looked like Hainanese rice, cooked in chicken broth, but there was a subtle taste of coconut. Grains were soft with a slight bite, a bit loose but not dry.
I also really liked the pork blood sausage, it had some fragrant herb in the sausage filling.
The goi vit was okay, but not as good as my last visit. There was even less rau ram (and I thought the last visit didnt have enough). The owner did say that next time, ask for lots of rau ram in the Goi Vit if you like it. The duck is still tender but is it just me, or was the duck a scrawny one (it had fat, but hardly much meat). Plus there was a watery pool of liquid under all the cabbage that didnt seem like it was supposed to be there. And the ginger lime sauce didnt seem to have as much zing as before.
Hopefully others will chime in with their opinions and maybe photos!