Many LA food media types dropped names of famous chefs doing fabulous underground meals as their most memorable meal of the year. I did the same for best of 2009. It was easy especially because that meal happened relatively late in the year (September 2090). For 2010, it’s a little, nay, much harder. There was a 30 day trip through SE Asia & China to consider. There were 5 days of chasing jerk chicken in Jamaica. But really, it seems too easy to say: “O, my best meal of 2010 was in the Night Market of Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand.” I’d imagine very few can actually (or will ever) relate to that.
Instead, I want to focus on a place that caters to what I deem important after this year’s travels: a fast, affordable, soulful, tasty & accessible meal. To quote Bourdain: “Fast food exists all over the world, that’s much cheaper than what we call fast food, fresher, actually nutritious, and you’re feeding money to individually owned mom-and-pop outfits more often than not.” Bun Rieu Quan is an embodiment of this. It’s a one woman shop opened by cô Susan on October 28th. It shares a kitchen with the boba shop next door. Susan’s staff (presumably family) can be seen ferrying bowls of pho ga to neighborhood stores (and the boba shop next door). It’s a scene so often observed at open food markets all over SE Asia: bowls of noodles and rice, served fresh in the morning, to the fellow produce & sundry vendors by lunch trays. It freaking warms my heart more so than any plate of fancy mignardises, and it’s in Rosemead, a surburban mix use town right here in Los Angeles County.
Like many food stalls in the food’s native country, Bun Rieu Quan’s Vietnamese cuisine menu is short (by American standards). After a few meals, it’s guaranteed you will have tried all the important house dishes: bun rieu — the restaurant namesake –, canh bun, a variation on the restaurant’s namesake, pho ga & bun bo Hue. Despite the presence of bun rieu & bun bo Hue, this is not a Central Vietnamese restaurant; cô Susan claims to be from “Hochiminh City”. Hopefully her Communist-leaning ideology doesn’t offend the old Vietnamese-American guard in Los Angeles because there are some huge chunks of crabs in her bun rieu!
The bun bo Hue served here doesn’t reek of fish sauce. It’s not overtly salty, but definitely savory. There’s deep flavors of slow beef stewing, and the broth isn’t bloodied by anato oil abuse. The spiciness is present, but not malicious. It’s a wonderfully well-rounded, most pleasant bowl of beef noodle that is not made by the Taiwanese.
Real winner here though, is the variations of bun rieu (and hence canh bun), seen above. The rieu (crab balls) are plentiful & well formed; there’s a real sense of accomplishment when biting into a nice ball of lump crab that doesn’t immediately disintegrate into ground meat. On good days (or perhaps simply when dungeness crab is on sale at the local markets), you’ll see chunks of fresh crab tossed in for good measure. It’s not inconceivable to think cô Susan’s bandaged fingers is caused by crab shell cuts.
Beyond noodle dishes, there’s a decent plate of great Hainan chicken rice (seen below left). While the rice isn’t a worthy competitor versus Savoy, it is sticky. If you want a new variation of Hainan chicken “sticky” rice, bun rieu is the place to get it. My personal favorite though, is the plate of cheap-ass stewed pork belly (seen below right). This is a Vietnamese variation on a typical Chinese “red cooked” pork stew, except with gentle squirts of fish sauce. This plate of pork no rice is $6, and some day, it’ll show up at A-Frame, Animal, or Momofuku.
Thanks to Wandering Chopsticks for the eating / ordering / restaurant discovery assist. Now if we can just get that darned plate of elusive pig feet rice…
Every foodiot makes the same new years resolution: eat healthier, eat local, eat home cooking, eat Alinea…
I don’t pretend to be resolute about my new year solutions, so let’s call these intentions. In fact, I really only have one: to not partake in Sriracha ever again. This thought anviled me when I was slurping the first (and last) bowl of pho in Hochiminh City the week before last Thanksgiving. The picture may seem to contain Sriracha, but the Vietnamese don’t actually use Sriracha, neither do the Thais. What you see is a Vietnamese hot sauce that is absolutely not Sriracha, though it looks vaguely similar. Sriracha is purposely (if not malevolently) overwhelming. It adds nothing, but destroys everything. The Sriracha empire is set to open a new $40 million plant this year in Irwindale, so it seems they’ll carry on just fine in their fortune without my ingestion of their product.
The other intention — and this is far more ridiculous — is too dine with more Jews. I really have no rhyme nor reason, except I believe a future with the Koreans & Jews holding hands will be awe-inspiring, especially in food (and fiddle playing). Also, the other night, I saw a Asian-Jewish toddler. He was cute. I think he’s going to be a male model in another 20 years.
Happy 2011 folks.
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