In mid-November, I got an email from Dylan of "Eat, Drink, & Be Merry" asking if I'd be interested in joining him and Jeni of "Oishii Eats" for lunch at a restaurant in Little Saigon that specialized in Central Vietnamese cuisine. Oh boy, was I ever interested! As a result, Cat and I were able to sit down with a number of fellow bloggers and friends for a memorable orgy of consumption I hope to repeat at the earliest possible opportunity.
In addition to ED&BM and Oishii Eats, the guest list included Elmo of "Monster Munching", Professor Salt of "You Gonna Eat That?", Deb of Green Pea, and, the Don of Little Saigon himself, Vietnamese food guru Beach, who was first introduced in my Pagolac Review. I was honored to be able to share a table with these illustrious gastronomes. They'd all been very supportive of me since I first began food blogging a few months ago, and it was pleasure to finally meet the ones I hadn't met before.
Quan Hy is one of three, family-run restaurants featuring Central Vietnamese Hue cuisine in Little Saigon. The Bolsa branch of Quan Hy is the best of the three, according to both Dylan and Beach. A number of blog posts have already been written about Quan Hy/Hop and Hue cuisine, so I'll only be covering my impressions of each dish briefly. If you're interested in Hue cuisine, I highly recommend that you also read some of the ones I've linked below. They're all very informative.
One of the signature cooking styles in Hue cuisine centers around banh, which refers to a cakes make from steamed rice flour which are then cut, molded, seasoned, and formed into a variety of difference dishes. Beach was very enthusiastic about having us try as much variety as possible, so he ordered a number of appetizers, the first of which were these banh beo.
Pools of rice paste were poured into small dishes, steamed, and then chilled. They were garnished with shredded shrimp meat and chopped green onions, and served with a ramekin of nuoc cham for seasoning. In order to eat them, you spoon a little nuoc cham onto the rice cake, then loosen from its dish using either your spoon or chopsticks. The whole cake is then slurped and consumed in one go. Since the banh beo are essentially unseasoned, you rely on the garnishes and nuoc cham for flavor. Even then, the overwhelming amount of flavor will be from the nuoc cham, so texture is what the diner primarily enjoys.
With the banh beo, Beach also ordered this plate of cha tom (steamed shrimp paste sausage patties) and cha hue (steamed pork paste sausage patties). With rubbery textures reminiscent of Asian meatballs, they were lightly flavored and could either be eaten with the banh beo or alone. I wasn't a huge fan of the cha tom, cha hue, or banh beo, but I did find my small taste of them enjoyable. I might order the banh beo again depending on my mood.
Next up was this plate of banh quai vac, which were steamed rice cakes wrapped around fillings containing pork, shrimp, and wood ear mushrooms. The "potstickers" were broiled in the oven and garnished with diced green onions and shreds of fried shrimp. This is definitely a rice cake centric dish. The banh quai vac were very chewy, like grilled mochi. Once again, texture is the main component to be enjoyed in this dish. While I didn't mind the banh quai vac, I probably wouldn't order them again. I've always had a problem with food that sticks to my teeth.
After the banh quai vac, I sampled the banh it ram, which were essentially unbroiled banh quai vac on top of crispy, fried rice cakes. The flavor was similar to that of banh quai vac, with the main difference being the added textural component of the crispy rice cakes. Once more, probably not something I'd order again.
As a child, one of my personal favorites was banh uot tom chay, which are thin sheets of rice cake wrapped around shredded shrimp. My mother always served it with a sweet soy dipping sauce. Quan Hy's rendition, like everything I sampled there, was excellent. A peanut sauce was provided instead of a sweet soy sauce, but since I'm a huge fan of peanut sauce, the digression was forgiven. The rice wrapper was chewy, but not gummy or sticky, which is probably why I liked it much better than either the banh quai vac or the banh it ram.
Another favorite of mine was banh uot thit nuong, which are thin sheets of rice cake wrapped around grilled beef and herbs instead of shredded shrimp. It's very similar to banh uot tom chay. I could probable live off of both those dishes for years, as long as I had a steady supply of limes to ward off scurvy and peanut sauce to provide fat and protein.
A silly misunderstanding where I mispronounced the Vietnamese word for Spring roll resulting in Beach ordering this absolutely delicious goi mit, a salad made from jackfruit, herbs, shredded shrimp, and shredded pork marinated in a soy-based vinaigrette. Large, crispy rice chips were served with the salad. To eat this dish, we broke the rice chips into smaller pieces, then topped them with the salad. The resulting combination of contrasting flavors and textures danced through my mouth like an intricately choreographed ensemble routine. I liked this dish very much, although I thought it was a bit pricey.
Cat and I also ordered a small plate of goi cuon tom thit for ourselves and a plate of cha gio to share. The goi cuon tom thit fulfilled my every expectation for Summer rolls. Wrapped in chewy rice paper, they were the perfect blend of aromatic herbs, astringent vegetables, and delicately seasoned meat. There were only two to an order, so we had one each.
The cha gio (Spring rolls) were amazing, with an intensely flavorful filling of crab and shrimp. The real difference was in the wrappers. Instead of using the flour-based wrappers common in Chinese cooking, which most Vietnamese restaurants in the States have adopted, Quan Hy's cha gio used the same rice wrappers used in the goi cuon, which resulted in a thinner, flakier shell that was reminiscent of puff pastry and phyllo.
At Dylan's strong recommendation, I ordered the bun bo dac biet cha tom, which consisted of thick bun noodles in a rich, spicy beef broth that I kicked up with the lime juice and fermented shrimp paste provided. It was served with coriander, sliced onion, slices of beef, chunks of beef shank and tendon, and shrimp sausage patties. Although the description of the dish in the menu mentioned pork and beef sausage patties as well, I don't think any made it into my bowl. Bun bo hue, of which my bun bo dac biet cha tom is but one variation, is considered one of the signature noodle dishes in Central Vietnamese cuisine. I enjoyed this soup very much, and was glad I was finally able to try it. Thanks Dylan!
Cat ordered the bun thit bo nuong, which consisted of grilled, marinated beef, coriander, shredded carrots, peanuts, and sesame seeds on top of a bed of bun noodles. This was a dry noodle dish meant to be mixed together with the peanut sauce provided before eating. Cat thought it was delicious, although she told me later that she thought the bun part was optional, and would probably have preferred a rice or salad base.
In a fun bit of surrealism, our meal was interrupted (or enhanced) by a group of charity carolers who sang a variety of songs as they passed around envelopes for donations for the poor. Beach made a contribution for the table. I tried to get him to take some money for Cat's share and mine, but he refused. He's a really generous guy.
As with most Vietnamese restaurants, the service at Quan Hy was only adequate. Usually, I consider myself lucky if I can manage to get a cup of water at a Vietnamese eatery. However, I was with Godfather Beach that day. Whenever I wanted something, he barked out an order in Vietnamese and the wait staff came running. When I tried to get their attention on my own, I failed miserably. I'm a fairly impressive, big guy. It's hard for someone to not see me unless they're making an effort. However, I'm working on learning more about Vietnamese language and culture, so hopefully I'll pick up the knack for getting good service soon. Then again, there may not be any trick for it. You may just have to be the Don of Little Saigon.
Quan Hy - Excellent Central Vietnamese (Hue) Cuisine at prices that won't make a grown Asian man cry. I have to give Dylan and Jeni another shout-out and big "Thank You" for both introducing me to the restaurant and inviting me along; great food, great company, and great times. I love food blogging.
Beach split the bill up, but with tax and tip, it came out to around $16 per person, which was pretty good given the amount of food that was available. I did notice that certain people mainly ate their entrees and sampled very little of the appetizers, so I feel bad that lunch actually had a lower ROI score from their perspective. The ROI score I've given is actually based on both the item-by-item price in the menu and the quality of product received, not the $16 per person cost of our lunch. This is the fairest way to assessing ROI, given the imbalance in value received by various attendees in group dining situations.
As a side note, while I love group dining from a cultural perspective (Taiwanese/Chinese), I always feel guilty participating since I'm such a big eater.
Quan Hy Restaurant
9727 Bolsa Ave
Westminster, CA 92683
Quan Hy Restaurant (sister branch)
10212 Westminster Ave
Garden Grove, CA 92843
Quan Hop (run by the same family)
15640 Brookhurst St
Westminster, CA 92683
Reviews by Food Blogger Friends:
- A Little Trip to Little Saigon for the Little One - Little Saigon, Westminster by Dylan from "Eat, Drink, & Be Merry"
- Quan Hy - Westminster by Professor Salt from "You Gonna Eat That?"
- Quan Hy - Westminster by Elmomonster from "Monster Munching"
- Quan Hop - Westminster by Elmomonster from "Monster Munching"