So...hands down, best Vietnamese food is in Orange County. I've tried really hard to debunk this (including in San Jose/SF, Wash DC, Boston, and NYC--granted I haven't been to TX yet where I guess mah peoplez congregate). We just have more *types* of Vietnamese cuisine across the board--northern, Hue, blah di blah blah and the innumerable seasonal and artisanal (ish) dishes. BUT ANYWAY....
Can we start with dessert? cuz it's pretty? and it's my blog and i'll do as i damn well please!! :)
I've eaten at Bun and Baoguette (2 Michael "Bao" Huynh enterprises) and u know, it suffices for swanking it up to be upscale with wagyu beef in the Pho, berkeshire pork belly w/ the vermicelli noodles, the frog legs, the blah di blah blah with a lot of "enhancements" while retaining as much of the Vietnamese quintessence. I've eaten some stuff in Chinatown here and it works. We're big on our sauces, our flavors--they're strong, distinctive, crisp, not muddled etc, lots of respect for each individual ingredient and taste. Anyhoodle....we'll get back to how this is relevant.
Strangely enough--FENNEL...works really well with fish sauce! That light citrusy, licoricey flavor and the diluted "dipping" sauce or "nuoc cham" as it's now been relegated to be (even tho the real name is "nuoc mam pha" which really just translates to diluted fish sauce--but u know, with garlic, lime juice, usually some chili, and a little vinegar). YUP!! FISH SAUCE!! :) not olive oil. TEEHEE!! made me so happy--and the sauce was done right :D However, the tiger shrimp was a little tough--i dunno i thought it would be more crudo than cooked, chewy shrimp. still yum enough with a diff kind of "goi" or salad/shreeded cabbage/frisee/greens kinda thing.
ENTREES!! I wanted the Wild Boar Ragout--we like our ragouts to be honest, and with a little french baguette and some braised pork so tender it just falls to pieces at the prodding of a fork. UNFORTUNATELY, they were out :( *tear*. So i went with the frickin ' fish since Gary was already gonna take the Grilled sirloin with carmelized onions etc.
Anyway--honestly, i really like red meat. I was trying to go on a limb with the mackerel @ Convivio, and I really didn't want to eat more fish and honestly i don't even remember what the fish was b/c i didn't really want to, it wasn't memorable and frankly, disappointing even just as a fish dish. Sea bass? Cod? Catfish? i wanna say catfish...but i doubt it since BarBao probably wants to swank it up more. Perfectly cooked technique-wise, really--moist, flakey, but bland underseasonsed and far from stellar.
*sigh*. Really anticlimactic and buzzkill of the night--i was really excited after the soup and the tiger shrimp carpaccio (more for the essence of Vietnamese flavors in these very recognizable dishes presented in a new way, more so than total execution).
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...so that's it really. Seldom do I write this much--but hot damn if i go quiet on Vietnamese food if I can help it :)
BTW--all the Bao endeavors I have to say are a huge upgrade from Viet Cafe in Tribeca--swank with the most muddle and lacking Vietnamese flavors and intensity ever, I don't even know why they call themselves a Vietnamese Restaurant even tho the people who own the Vietnamese gallery next door and their shar-peis are absolutely fantastic :) Honestly tho--I can see how upgrading some of the ingredients really do up our cuisine well while maintaining the integrity of the food but...for what it is--Bar Bao is a little pricey, but I'd def go back for the cuttlefish and other stuff. I'm more pleased with their adventurous side more so than their dressing up old faves. If u're gonna change a good thing, make it notable and new! like that damn flan! even if it's just a reinvention w/ familiar flavors ^_^
That's all. I've eaten enough. Italy pics--those are next I promise....b/c I have to redeem my suffering photography and compensating for lighting skills lately. =/ *sigh*.