Behind a 99-Cent-Only store, hidden in a dank alley-way, past the dumpsters, you will find one of Little Saigon's finest restaurants; Brodard.
The brightly lit dining room buzzes with activity. It is the size of a high school gymnasium, with giant Christmas ornaments inexplicably dangling over the entrance. The servers are quick and efficient as dishes fly out of the kitchen and diners slump over bowls of noodle soup, slurping with gusto.
We started with the signature item, the Nem Nuong Cuon ($6.00 for an order of 4); a spring roll to put others you've may have had cowering in shame. Nem Nuong, the thing that the restaurant is known for, is a ruddy and dense pork or shrimp concoction which isn't quite a sausage and not really a meatball, but a harmonious fusion of the two. Its springy texture offers the slightest resistance to the teeth, and the taste is close to SPAM without all that salt.
A slender piece of the Nem Noung is grilled until slightly charred. Then, it is wrapped tautly inside transculent rice paper. Also encased in suspended animation inside this tight tubular construct is; a smidgen of cold vermicelli noodles; a sliver of crisp cucumber; torn leaves of butter lettuce; a crunchy stick of deep fried egg roll skin; and a sprig of scallion, which protrudes outside the bundle like a sprout reaching for the sun.
All the players of the spring roll peer out through the thin, luminous rice-paper membrane, waiting to leap when you take a bite.
On the side, for your dunking pleasure, a bowl of warm sauce awaits. It is sweet and murky thick with pureed garlic.
As soon as you plant your chompers into the tightly wound roll, it unfurls in your mouth with the smoky bite of the grilled Nem Noung playing front and center, while the fried egg roll skin provides an unexpected, teeth-jarring crunch. Then, the icy cold crispness of the cucumber and lettuce refreshes like an ice cold shower on a balmy day. Immediately afterwards the herbaceousness of the green onion and the warm sauce you've used to dunk, fill the sinuses with a garlicky and oniony burn.
It's a good first start to this, or any meal, for that matter. A salad and an appetizer in one.
Next was the Com Tam Bi Cha Thit Nuong ($5.95). It's a pork-a-palooza on an oblong dish with a mound of broken rice as the stage. The performers are three distinctly different preparations of pork.
The headliner is the grilled slices of marinated pork, sweet and tender, in a fairly straightforward preparation . The second act which looks like pork confetti, is moist and wispy; a light touch on the tongue. If they could make a slurpable noodle from pork, this would be it. The final act is a wedge of Vietnamese egg quiche which has in eggy suspension, ground pork and diced wood ear mushroom. It has a bright, pumpkin-colored rind made from egg yolk and tastes like Vietnamese comfort food.
The three provide a rounded and satisfying sample of the pig. But all would not be complete without requisite bowl of Nuoc Cham (sweetened fish sauce), which ties everything together. Also present is some roughage in the form of lettuce, sliced cucumber, tomato, and housemade pickles. Its function is to cleanse the palate between the spoonfuls of meat and rice you're going to stuff your face with.
Our last dish was Mien Xao Cua ($9.25), stir fried glass noodle with crab. Listed as one of Brodard's specialties, it reminded me of a similar Korean dish called "chap chae", except that this one was more deeply flavored with fish sauce and spiked with barely wilted scallions and red onion.
Another distinguishing factor of the dish was the abundance of crab meat that is generously strewn about. Pleasantly flaky, these fresh morsels weren't the least bit fishy and made me wonder how they could charge so little for this dish when Joe's Crab Shack could charge upwards to $20 for a just few ounces of crabmeat.
9892 Westminster Ave
Garden Grove, CA 92844