Hubby & I went to the Lion Market plaza on Tully & King in San Jose yesterday for a snack & some Asian groceries. We hadnt been in more than a year because last couple times, the whole neighborhood was a traffic nightmare and total zoo (and it wasn't even New Year rush). Plus Im always afraid Ill run into one of my 4 grand aunts who will grab onto me, insist on taking me out for a meal then giving me a bag of cookies & goodies like they always have since I was a little girl. Anyway, the crowds were not bad and there were no relatives yesterday.
We toured the stalls and browsed the restaurants before deciding on the following:
Banh xeo and Banh bot loc from Quan Hue stall in the food court
Avocado shake from the juice bar to the right of Quan Hue
Whole Roast duck from the BBQ deli to the right of Lion Market.
Banh xeo ($5.75) was huge, steaming, mostly crispy, but quite greasy. Filling was mostly bean sprouts. There were only 3 medium-size lettuce leaves, but lots of cilantro, peppermint and tito (purple shiso). Nuoc cham dipping sauce was not too sweet, bit spicy from chili paste, but could use more lime. Overall not as good as the Century mall banh xeo stall (and even less than the sit-down Viet Ville), but passable.
Banh bot loc ($2.75 for 4 packages) is something I dont see often. These are small banana leaf wrapped packages of steamed tapioca paste surrounding shrimp & pork. At the Viet Chowdown last year we had some really good ones at the Bun Bo Hue restaurant on Senter road. These had appropriate chewiness but seem reheated or microwaved, unlike freshly steamed ones would taste. Hubby actually agreed to taste one (he's white & subsisted on mac & cheese into his twenties). He didn't provide any comment, but he ate more than oen bite.
I noticed a lot of patrons got bun bo hue from Quan Hue, but we didnt want hot noodle soup after having just done a long hike in full sun. I also saw the sample display included a dish of banh khot, and if I had read Melanie's post on Ngoc Mai beforehand I would've been inspired to order them. Perhaps another day.
Avocado shake ($3.25) was really good: creamy and very avocado-ey, and not sweet (by my request). The other juice bar had shakes for 25 cents less but had less people so we chose this one. I liked their real-life display of the 10 or so different che (sweet drinks of beans & jellies in coconut milk & crushed ice), but didn't get any this time.
Roast duck ($11.50 per duck) seemed bigger than usual. Skin was a lovely dark mahogany, crisp in some places but quite fatty all over. The flavor of the skin is really savory, as if you want to just suck on it and make juicy sounds. The nicest part is when he chopped it up, he dumped the juices in big collective bowl, and when I asked for some in broken Vietnamese, using the english word "sauce" and pointing to it, he gladly gave me a generous amount in a foam tupperware. We took most of the duck home and reheated in the toaster oven, the skin crisped a bit more but the meat did not dry out or get tough. I like it better than Parc Hong Kong and Marina Market (in Foster City), the last 2 places Ive gotten roast duck. The only minus is the skin is not well plucked, kind of an ick factor for me. Hubby ate it all, hairy skin, fat layer, & all. He left the neck and head for me though ;-).
Anyway I just wanted to report that this past-mentioned plaza is okay to venture to once again, now that other Lion Market locations have made past hordes a thing of the past. In fact, the sit-down places were eerily empty, even if it was only 5 PM. Though maybe thats not a great sign. I like the ambiance of the Century Mall food court better, since it's newer & airconditioned. What I like about the Lion Plaza food court is almost all the dishes are displayed in acutal real-life samples, in addition to having photos, so if you're not Vietnamese, it really helps. However, the food seems generally better at Century Mall.