So, I guess if you've already got a deep-fryer for the take-out Chinese part of your menu, you might as well use it on the Vietnamese specialties, too?
I had the weirdest version ever of Fish in Clay Pot at Sunrise Restaurant in Dorchester today. Okay, it was pretty bad, but I don't think it *had* to be...The sauce was right, nice saltiness, just enough caramelized sugar, big chunks of garlic...I thought it was a nice touch that the skin was taken off the fish slices, til I realized it had fallen off in the deep-fryer...Hmm, strange, but I was willing to explore new preps...But it just seemed a little too fast-food court to me, kinda like Fish In Clay Pot done by Panda Express....While frying it kept the fish juicy inside, just finishing it in the clay pot didn't give it that braised flavor that lets the sauce cook into the flesh, and renders it falling-off-the bone tender, yet keeps it a fairly healthful dish. The flavor of all that deep-fried garlic was tasty, but overall, the flavors didn't meld into the fish, and all that oil thrown into the pot to finish just made me feel a little queasy.....It's just not supposed to be fried.
Everyone around me seemed to be eating plates of fried rice, some had rice-plates with eggs on top, so maybe that and soups are the thing to get here, but it seemed like anything off the Vietnamese Specialties should be a good bet...I bet wrong....Prices are a few bucks higher than other Vietnamese places around, but the limited menu did seem fairly non-threatening to gringos, of which there were plenty..I don't think the two servers cracked a smile the whole time I was there. I guess everyone has a bad day once in awhile, but since I had been looking forward to trying this place, it was too bad.
The great part of my day was hitting Ba Le for a banh mi...They had three different kinds of fake-meat in their prepared food case, and the woman was more than willing to open one, and make me a veggie sandwich. I am *not* a fake meat fan, but this was light and tasty, fragrant with anise and I don't know what else. It was all about well-cooked tofu and gluten with a nice texture. They make it themselves, and I bet if enough people *ask* it could be part of their regular menu. (Tho, the stuff is only $1 a package, so I guess you could just buy it, and hand to to the sandwich person...) Their steam-table counter has expanded, most a little greasy for my taste, but YMMV, and it's cheap enough...The BIG new change is that there's a dessert bar, for those sweet rice, corn, coconut-cream, green-bean layered treats one usually finds prepared at all the banh mi shops around...Kinda like custom-sundaes ;)
I also stopped at three different Vietnamese markets on Dot Ave, which I usually don't bother doing, because I figure, hey, I have Super 88....Now I understand why Super 88 doesn't have the depth and breadth of Vietnamese vegeatbles and herbs that the Lowell markets have. Answer; everyone is buying the stuff in Dorchester...I went to Pha Cuhoung(?), or Cu Houng(?) Market, right across from Ba Le, and was shocked at the long counter of less-common Vietnamese herbs, rau, taro root stem and all those others. Then I got to the back, and this tiny place had big, beautiful fish stretched out on the ice..I planned to come back...But then, I hit Truong Thinh Supermarket, the largest, and closest to Fields Corner, and the herb selction there looked great too...The fish might have been a pinch better at Cu Houng, but I quibble...This was a larger, more full service market, closer to the size of the little Super 88.. The third one I visited, Vien Dong, is in the same little strip as Sunrise Restaurant. I had been there before, but it seems to have taken an uphill swing, more herbs, more fresh. Some of the fish looked considerably better than I remembered...
All these places are between Columbia road and Fields Corner, on Dorchester Ave....If my spelling if off, just cruise along slowly (impossible to do otherwise!) and you'll see 'em. Except for Pho 2000, my Dorchester favorite, around the corner in Fields Corner on Adams Street...Happy Hunting!