CHOW.COM is famous for all the “downhill alerts” people post. The ratio of downhill to uphill alerts is somewhere around 100:1.
In fact, I don’t recall ever reading one single Uphill Alert for the San Gabriel Valley. I mean, it’s just not known to happen. It shouldn’t happen. Thinking back, this rare meal couldn’t have happened without equal bits of pity and mockery by the servers.
Bo 7 mon (bo bay mon), typically consists of:
1. Gỏi bò: a salad made with pickled carrot, pickled daikon, and celery salad with thin strips of beef in nước mắm (fish sauce)
2. Bò chả đùm: Beef patties served with rice crackers
3. Bò nhúng dấm: Raw slices of beef to be cooked in a heated broth
4. Bò nướng mỡ chài: Ground beef rolled in caul (a thin, fatty membrane)
5. Bò lá lốt: Ground beef rolled in a Lolot leaf (very similar to a grape leaf)
6. Bò nướng hành: Strips of beef rolled around a piece of scallion
7. Cháo Bò: Beef Congee
Lest anyone thinks I know diddly about Vietnamese food, the above is from Wiki.
Thien An last appeared in a major publication around January of 2010 as “The Find”. The article barely triggered a reaction because Thian An made no mark on the WSGV grub map; it was just another 7 course beef place out of the 3 known 7 course beef places in WSGV. It’s “OK”. VN-kiddies on Yelp complained of shat service, erratic pacing, dirtiness, ad nausea. If it’s a plausible restaurant complaint, it’s gonna be next to the Thien An entry on the dictionary. However, our last meal at Thien An presented some sort of spiritual awakening — Thien An Rosemead had suddenly achieved no-holds-bar greatness.
On a Friday with modicum amount of diners, Thien An’s entire staff took care of us while gently sneering. They mixed the sauces, they quickly replenished nhung dam (sour vinegar broth for fondue/shabu/insert swishing cooking thingie here), they refilled the water and promptly brought us new plates with rice paper. The stars freakishly aligned and all those “Real People, Real Reviews” disintegrated into naught. This time around, Thien An was just en pointe.
Course 1: vinegary beef / shrimp salad
I love this. Components of this dish can be reassembled for banh mi, or foundation of a great bowl of chilled bun. Also fortunate for course 1, it’s about as close to Western food as possible and easily accepted by the American palate (sweet, sour, umami?). Despite liberal use of fish sauce, it doesn’t offend even the meekest of palates. The chilled shrimp, cooked by citrus, is reminiscent of a ceviche and the whole messy platter, when tossed, displays all that is good in Vietnamese cuisine. Despite cheap & readily available ingredients, many restaurants skimp on the goi bo. Not Thien An. Here, the mint’s fresh & crisp, while peanuts and fried shallots adds earthiness.
Course 3 (served second): bo nhung dam (sliced tenderloin in vinegar fondue). So vinegary, eef good enough for a $15 dinner. No complaints.
Course 2/4/5 (ground beef patty with cracker, ground beef balls, beef in lolot leaf)
All good enough, and everything is topped with a piquant sauce when rolled: fish sauce, shrimp paste, sambal chili and finely chopped pickled lemongrass. Mixing the ratio of this sauce is akin to Singaporeans mixing the proper Hainan chicken sauce: it’s an art and as personal as boxer or briefs.
6th course, grilled beef marinaded in oiled lemongrass
Supposedly bò nướng hành should be rolled with scallion in the center. Here at the DIY grill table, this is essentially a Vietnamese bulgogi.
7th course is never worth mentioning: bits of ground beef in salty alphabet noodle soup. Don’t laugh. It’s been known to happen. It’s always a poorly executed porridge, and Thien An is no different.
To jazz up the various courses, differing cooking methodology is employed. From fondue to grilling to spring roll making, much of the cooking is DIY and performed at the table. Beyond Korean BBQ, there is no other Asian “dish” that is more labor intensive and more fun. Thien An has a Wesminster branch, but with the newer facility and the closer drive, there is absolutely no reason to trek down to the OC.
It’s imperative to mention even the greens served for the roll-your-own spring rolls were examples of chlorophyll perfection:
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