It was time for another dental appointment in the Richmond, and to celebrate the novocaine wearing off I met four hounds (and two other friends we ran into by chance) at this old (since 1987, the menu brags) yet unheralded (that is to say, always nearly empty) Vietnamese restaurant on Clement just off 10th Avenue. The interior is rather nondescript but for a large tank full of happy koi. The owner's 4-year-old daughter, done with her day at preschool, cavorted about the place. She had a lot of room, as not another table was occupied the whole time we were there.
The menu resembles many others in town, though on the pricey side, with very few rice plates and no lunch specials. A laminated page of pho selections and tapioca drinks has been inserted into the original menu. We didn't sample any pho, though. We were there especially for their pan-fried crab ($30 each; order a day in advance). Meat from the carapace and from the knuckles is mixed with lots of garlic, ginger, onion and seasonings, and fried up to a sticky savory crisp that coats the legs and claws and rests in a big yummy heap underneath them. I ordered two crabs, and the friendly owner scored a couple of lovely big ones. The first one was slightly overcooked, but the advantage was that the sticky bits were nicely browned. The other was perfectly done, with the meat clinging to the shell. I was a little disappointed in both of them, though, because they didn't do as fine a job as they had in past meals of separating the inedible parts out from the knuckle meat. So it wasn't pure uninhibited fun to dig in to the sticky bits. Still, we pretty much licked both plates clean, and the bits were still wonderful with rice, even if we had to spit out those papery knuckle shells. At the end we were brought large bowls of warm water (or maybe tea) with lime to wash our hands in.
Before the crab, we shared a banh xeo (stuffed Vietnamese crepe), which was nicely browned, but which had too many bean sprouts in the stuffing for my taste, and no discernible coconut flavor in the crepe. We also ordered a plate of thit nuong (grilled marinated pork), which was terrific, and an okay beef dish whose name escapes me but which consisted of small cubes of very salty sauteed meat atop some lettuce leaves. (By the way, the 7 course beef dinner is served here.) One surprise guest (the friends we ran into are decidedly not chowhounds--they were on some vague "cleansing diet") ordered the beef rice porridge, which was deeply flavorful. It might have had a quarter cup of shredded ginger in it. Hound Sheri asked the owner if he'd come to her house every morning and make it for her breakfast. (He said he'd be glad to, for the right price.) The other asked for a plate of sauteed mushrooms, and was nicely accommodated with a mix of sliced button mushrooms, a few shiitakes and a couple of black mushrooms with plenty of garlic. She also ordered the fried banana dessert (who knew fried bananas were cleansing?), which she greatly enjoyed but which I didn't taste. We also had many iced coffees, and one salted plum drink.
I can't say Golden Deer is the place I would always go to for Vietnamese food, because it's a little expensive. But on the other hand, it might be very good. I just have hardly had anything there but the crab in all these years. And this is good crab. But it is strange to eat in an empty restaurant time after time. So I guess my ultimate take on it is, well, it's good crab, when you're in the mood to spend $30 on crab instead of $6.88 someplace like Best Panda, but I'd rather be able to get this preparation for less than $30. And I'd love to have more data on the place.
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