Friday, January 30, 2009

Restaurant WK @ BarBao!...

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!! :)
THE FLAN!! OH! That saved the DAY!!! I love me some flan--some other countries' versions are usually a little more jiggly, or more custardy, ours is a little firmer--but this one is a nice balance. AND it has a little coconut foam on it! ^_^ Sweet little surprise! ALso came with gingko nuts and i think dates our version o fit. IT reminds me of this drink we have with longans, the gingko nuts, some julienne seaweed, sometimes with a little coconut milk, and little cubes of agar/grass jelly. I *never* would've thought those two flavors would go together. YUM!!! Lovin' that foam!
Gary got the Vietnamese bread pudding--whatever the hell that is, haha. But it, was interesting enough. Good texture, nice ice cream on top--and they had the candied fruits that I remember them usualy serving on Lunar New Years. I for the life of me cannot recall what they're called in English with most of what I know the foods to be in Vietnamese--so everytime I eat out at a new "fusion" or haute-cuisine-y place it's like unjumbling a puzzle and saying OH!! so THAT's what that is! :)

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.
I had the tiger shrimp carpaccio with shaved fennel and sprouts (a version of this is in the regular menu too, also recommended in the NYtimes review by Bruni). YUM YUM FISH SAAAAAUCE!! WOOHOO!!

Strangely 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.
Gary had the Mekong soup...whichebbs--i don't remember the name they assigned it, but for you cognoscenti (mainly just if u're Vietnamese really :P) it's canh chua ca thi la....minus the dill, some other veggies, and tilapia. tolerable form. a little lemongrassy, had some bean sprouts, two puny shrimp, tomatoes. Flavors still on point YAY. quantity of stuff and authenticity not so much. I mean look at it. I didn't even want to try to take any more pictures it just wasn't doing much for me. BUT--the flavors still were strong and all there and admittably tasty. Just disappointing the "girth" of the soup if u will.

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.
So Gary's grilled sirloin, which is just really "bo luc lac"...which honestly i dont' really know the etymology, but it's sorta close to meaning "beef shaken about"--but it's just cubes of really good beef well sauteed in lotsa butter sometimes a little rare with some vinegar, salt & pepper with some onions. THIS ONE...was DAMN GOOD--like lick each finger eat it wih my hands screw the rice that came with it kinda good. It's been a while since I've had good "bo luc lac" :)

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.
AND THE PLATING!! WHAT the EFF?!?! brown, brown, grey, dark brown, dark grey, pale pieces of mushroom--from the looks of it when it came out, I thought the skin of the fish--or that side of it rather would've been seared a little more to be a little crispy or almost tender crust-like, followed with heavenly soft and fluffly fish with a little ginger kick maybe with the brown sauce, and i thought the chanterelle (?) mushrooms were the yellowy pickled sliced asparagus that usually comes with it--kinda like in the "ca kho to" or the claypot stuff that they also serve there--at Pho So 1 on Mott St it's pretty damn good. great sauce.

*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).

* * * * * * * * * * 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*.

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