Wandering Chopsticks and I had been corresponding for a while when she finally asked me if I'd like to have dinner with her. She suggested we try Da Nang Com Tam Tran Qui Cap. The name was familiar to me from Elmomonster's food blog, where she'd recommended Da Nang Com Tam Tran Qui Cap for their Tau Hu Ky (Tofu Skin Wrapped Shrimp Sausage).
When Cat and I arrived at the tiny storefront, we weren't sure we were at the right place. The email has said to look for yellow umbrellas. There were two sets, one at either end of the complex. In addition, we'd been told to meet at "Com Tam Tran Cuy Cap". Da Nang Com Tam Tran Qui Cap seemed close enough, but I couldn't find Wandering Chopsticks inside when I peered through the window. Figuring we'd wait for her out front, we huddled together against the cold January night.
It wasn't until we were fifteen minutes past the agreed upon meeting time and losing the feeling in our ears that Cat and I decided to take shelter in the restaurant. As we entered, a previously invisible side section of the dining room came into view. On a hunch, I rounded the corner to find Wandering Chopsticks and her soft-spoken, younger brother waiting for us at a table. What a relief!
Once the introductions were out of the way, we got down to the business at hand; reviewing the food at Da Nang Com Tam Tran Qui Cap. Fresh from my excursion to Quan Hy, I had a serious jonesing for Banh Beo (Steamed Rice Cakes). Despite Wandering Chopsticks' dubious expression, I ordered a set.
While the Banh Beo weren't horrible, they really didn't have much to recommend them. They arrived lukewarm and didn't taste fresh. The texture was odd and grainy, as if they'd been prepared ahead of time and warmed up just before serving. The shrimp topping was dry and chewy. I was disappointed. These Banh Beo just didn't sizzle the way the ones at Quan Hy had.
We also ordered a set of Cha Gio (Vietnamese Spring Rolls) to share. Although the ends looked a little scorched, the Cha Gio had a good crunch and weren't greasy. I found them far superior to the oil-laden, soggy Cha Gio I'd tried at Com Tam Thuan Kieu. However, in terms of flavor, they were woefully lacking. The pork filling was bland, and the shrimp that were supposed to be inside were indiscernible. Above average, but nothing compared to the pork and crab filled Cha Gio served at Quan Hy.
Taking a cue from Wandering Chopsticks and her brother, Cat and I decided to order one of Da Nang Com Tam Tran Qui Cap's gi-normous com tam combo platters. Our plate came with grilled shrimp, Cha (Seasoned Egg Custard), Bo Thit Nuong (Grilled Marinated Beef), Bi (Shredded Pork Skin), and Tau Hu Ky (Tofu Skin Wrapped Shrimp Sausage). Both the grilled shrimp and the Cha were unremarkable. Cat really enjoyed the Bo Thit Nuong. However, the real standouts that night were the Bi and the Tau Hu Ky. The Bi was moist and flavorful. Shreds of pork added a great body to the dish, which I found far better than the rendition served at Com Tam Thuan Kieu. Despite its lackluster appearance, the Tau Hu Ky had a deep flavor that Wandering Chopsticks told me was the result of a long soak in Da Nang Com Tam Tran Qui Cap's secret marinade. It was so good that Cat and I squabbled over the last few pieces.
Unfortunately, the Com Tam (Broken Rice) didn't score as well, being thoroughly soaked in cooking oil. It could be that the Tau Hu Ky hadn't been fully drained before being placed on top. Whatever the case, the Com Tam, which should have been the star of the platter, was almost too greasy to eat and had a funny texture. As we left that night, Wandering Chopsticks apologized for the quality of the food, saying that she and her brother both felt it hadn't been as good as they remembered. Since my impressions of the Da Nang Com Tam Tran Qui Cap had been mixed, I decided to make a second visit before writing my review to see if the restaurant had just had a bad night, or if the food really had declined.
The next week, the Family Man and I made a return visit to Da Nang Com Tam Tran Qui Cap during our lunch break. A first generation Vietnamese immigrant who'd grown up in Little Saigon, the Family Man had been my partner in crime when I'd reviewed Com Tam Thuan Kieu. I was interested in hearing his opinion of the food at Da Nang Com Tam Tran Qui Cap. To avoid contaminating his opinion, I only told him that the restaurant had been recommended to me by a friend. His first comment? The balance of the Nuoc Cham (Fish Sauce Condiment) was off. Since Nuoc Cham is the essential seasoning for Com Tam, this was a pretty big strike. I tasted the Nuoc Cham and found it oddly flat, which he felt was a good description.
His second comment was that the pork bone broth which had come with our Com Tam orders had too little flavor. I agreed. It was a lot like sipping dishwater. We'd also ordered some Cha Gio. Here, the Family Man echoed my initial impression that the texture of the spring rolls was good, but that they were lacking in flavor.
The final straw came when our Com Tam arrived. I'd ordered mine with Bi and Tau Hu Ky, both of which were as good as when I'd tried them first. This time, Com Tam wasn't greasy. Instead, it was unforgivably undercooked, with a pasty exterior and crunchy, starchy interior. Neither the Family Man nor I were able to finish our rice. We barely touched it. For two Asian boys raised to respect rice as a gift from the gods, this said a lot. On the way back to the office, the Family Man said, "Let's not go back there again." I had to agree.
Da Nang Com Tam Tran Qui Cap - The cooked items are decent, and the Bi and Tau Hu Ky are must-orders. However, the shoddy quality of the Com Tam makes Da Nang Com Tam Tran Qui Cap a failure as a Com Tam restaurant. If you go, enjoy the Bi and Tau Hu Ky, but don't expect much from the Com Tam. It will only disappoint you.
The Bill (two visits):
Banh Beo - 4.95
Cha Gio - 5.95
Com Tam Platter - 7.95
Com Tam Bi Tau Hu Ky - 5.95
Da Nang Com Tam Tran Qui Cap
9607 Bolsa Ave.
Westminster, CA 92683
Click here to read Wandering Chopsticks' review on OC Food Blogs.