Sunday, October 22, 2006

Quan Hop - Westminster



If pho isn't the official dish of Little Saigon, it should be. Walk any square block on Bolsa Street and you won't see just one restaurant hocking bowls of the noodle soup, but three, with a few more crowding your peripheral vision. Pho joints are to Westminster as taquerias are to Santa Ana; a ubiquitous part of the landscape.

But as tacos aren't the end-all-be-all of Mexican food, neither is pho. Rather, it is a place to start; an accessible dish that acts as a gateway to the other wonders of Vietnamese cuisine.

Quan Hop, the little sister to Quan Hy (a Little Saigon institution I haven't had the pleasure of trying), sells pho. And it does the dish quite well; one of the best bowls I've had in the area, in fact.

Their Pho Tai Bo Vien ($7.25) is, quite literally, the filet mignon of phos. Membrane-thin slices of the raw, premium steak is the featured ingredient and is so flavorful and tender it doesn't just melt in your mouth, it disintegrates.

It's cooked simply by immersion in a shimmering, anise-scented beef broth which also animates the springy homemade meat balls, the transculent slivers of onion, and the toothsome strands of rice noodles. Slurping isn't only unavoidable, it's required and expected, even in Quan Hop's crisply clean designer surroundings.

But to stop here would be criminal. As you wouldn't leave Paris after having just a baguette, you shouldn't leave Quan Hop without trying one of their Hue specialties.

Hue cuisine -- hailing from the central part of Vietnam -- is the food of royalty, from a time long gone and almost forgotten. The typical Hue dish is a measured balance of flavors and textures, with an added emphasis on presentation, and will often come with its own special sauce, for dipping or dousing.

Yet another characteristic of Hue food is the creative use of rice flour, which Quan Hop expertly demonstrates in a dish called Banh Beo ($5.00); one the restaurants signature concoctions.



Rice flour batter is steamed in miniature saucers and sprinkled with minced shrimp meat, diced scallions and fried caramelized bits of onion.

An order comes in eight single serving shots, arranged in a tic-tac-toe grid on a square dish. Holding the center square is a bowl of sauce with floating rounds of diced Thai chilis -- bobbing menaces you should treat like sea mines.

To eat a Banh Beo, take a teaspoon to task and splash on a few drops of the golden sauce, then scoop out the rice cake as you would a cup of dessert gelatin. The opaque and milky white substance, is not unlike a very dense rice noodle, with a clean, light, and firm texture which not at all starchy or pasty.

But for all intents and purposes, it is devoid of flavor, which is where the toppings and the sauce come in. The latter, in particular, provides a pungent, sweet, and vinegary bite; the kind that leaves you wanting more.

For an explosive burst of scorching heat, add a few pieces of the Thai chili -- you'll be glad the room is air-conditioned.



Banh Hoi Thit Nuong ($7.00) is another variation of the rice flour theme. For the dish, curly strands of rice vermicelli noodles are knitted to form flat and floppy rectangular swatches and served with crispy grilled slices of lemongrass-marinated pork.

The meat is then to be wrapped in this noodle-mesh pancake and eaten with accoutrements of cucumbers, pickled carrots, iceberg lettuce, and minty tia to leaves. Flanking the dish is, of course, a thin dipping sauce spiked of garlic and chili, which reins it all in like a unifying force.



If you demand that your rice noodles are a served in its original incarnation, the bowl of Hu Tiu hop Dai ($6.75) should prove pleasing. The mound of round noodles comes dry, with a topping of herbs, minced and whole cooked shrimp, and slices of roast pork. A base of shredded lettuce lurks on the bottom of the bowl for crunch.

On the side, in a smaller bowl, is the sauce to be poured and then tossed with the other ingredients. As dark as crude oil and as thickly sweet as pancake syrup, this specially formulated brew adds a bold complexity to the dish, and makes for a noodle salad to beat other noodle salads.



Another item from the appetizer menu resembles something you'd see at dim sum. Banh uot Tom Chay ($5.50) is as slender as a taquito, and comes six to an order.

Each roll -- made from rice flour batter spread as thinly as a crepe -- is as delicate as a pre-dawn dream. But the sauce which accompanies is redolent of chopped garlic, floating in raw chunks and ready for action.



As a finisher to the meal on one visit, the restaurant supplied complimentary fried sesame seed balls. Deep fried to a nutty crisp, each glutinuous rice sphere hides a sugary sweet mash of yellow bean paste. I'd gladly put down a jelly-donut to have these for breakfast.

Quan Hop's menu is full of such surprises. All an intrepid diner has to do is look past the pho column and venture into the unexplored and tasty.

Quan Hop
(714) 689-0555
15640 Brookhurst St
Westminster, CA 92683

Post-script: Read Professor Salt's review of Quan Hop's pho here!

24 Comments:

At 5:34 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

Sorry I've been bad about commenting. I have been out of town.

You mentioned many of my very favorite Vietmanese dishes. Guess we're going to Argyle street (In Chicago. Full of Vietnamese restaurants) this weekend.

I like pho, but I only ever order it after I've been to a place several times. It's the same with bulgogi and Korean restaurants. I don't want anyone thinking "of course the white girl ordered that."

 
At 12:23 PM, Anonymous Kirk said...

Nice Elmo - Central Vietnamese Cuisine is really good stuff, and my current fave.....

 
At 1:52 PM, Blogger The Bill said...

D@mn that's an expensive bowl of pho! I'm going to stop there but your descriptions of the food makes my mouth water ;-)

 
At 4:06 PM, Anonymous Calvinist said...

I have to eat here. that looks great!

 
At 5:22 PM, Blogger Chubbypanda said...

Excellent. Another selection close to my office. I'll definitely try it out soon.

- Chubbypanda

 
At 5:23 AM, Blogger Deb said...

You are killing me! My son and I just went out for pho last night oer by the 99 Ranch Market on Jeffrey & 5 fwy.
He loved it, I thought it lacked. We're lucky to have soo much culturaly diverse foods available....now we can actually tell what's good!

 
At 8:04 AM, Blogger Chubbypanda said...

Deb,

Have to chime in here. You were right, the pho at Pho Irvine is lacking. I should probably post my review of it at some point. Try Pho Bac Ky on Barranca. It's about the best you'll get in Irvine.

On the flip side, there are now FOUR pho places in Irvine. When I moved here there weren't any at all. Isn't diversity grand?

- Chubbypanda

 
At 9:16 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Juliet,

Funny enough I have the opposite problem. When I go to a Korean tofu restaurant, I always order the tofu soup "white", which I'm pretty sure makes the servers do a double-take since I've been told I look like a Korean.

Kirk,

It's becoming mine too! Quan Hy, the bigger sister to this family of restaurants purportedly serves even more exotic eats. I'm so there.

The Bill,

You know what?! I didn't even realize it until you pointed it out! You're right! It is a pretty expensive bowl of pho. I guess that's how they recover the cost of the filet mignon. Funny though, I'm usually pretty price sensitive. But I guess the other dishes distracted me from the sticker price of the pho.

calvinist,

I think you'll like it. Pretty clean and modern surroundings too.

deb and Chubbypanda,

I tried Pho 99 exactly once, and although I didn't find it objectionable, I'm a frequent customer of Pho Bac Ky (the one on Barranca)...if for no other reason than I'm a creature of habit. Plus, they have this dessert called "The Black Sea" that is just about the best icy mixed drink/dessert ever!!!

 
At 12:58 PM, Blogger Chubbypanda said...

Elmo,

Whoops. You're right. I totally mixed up the restaurant names there. Pho 99 is the one on Walnut that I was thinking about, and Pho Bac is the one on Barranca, not Pho Bac Ky.

... Which means that there are now so many pho places in Irvine I'm able to get them confused!

Brilliant!

- Chubbypanda

 
At 2:20 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

Hey Elmo!
I don't even know when was the last time I had pho! We would have it on a weekly basis in Hawaii - but man, I need to take more advantage of LA while I'm here :) Awesome post! That's the first time I've seen a Vietnamese restaurant give our free sweets at the end!

 
At 9:18 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Kathy,

I was surprised when they gave us that treat to end our meal. But the next visit (a week after), they had no such giveaways. I think they may have run out.

 
At 12:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wtf they didn't offer us fried sesame seed balls when we ate there (~2 weeks ago)... and we ordered a ton of stuff.

 
At 3:39 PM, Blogger Beach said...

Man, I thought I know every restaurant in Little Saigon but I have not been here yet. Maybe , this weekend. Some guy name Kirk said that he will meet me and you in October for VN food and here it is 6 days remove from Haloween and I have not heard from either one of you. You two are too good for me or WHAT? LOL.

 
At 4:02 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Anon,

Yeah, it must have been just that one night. Probably because they just happen to have an excess supply of those sesame balls. Weird. I was expecting to get more on the last trip too, but nope...got bupkis!

Beach,

Well, I, for one, am still up for 7 course of beef. I'm going to e-mail you offline to schedule.

 
At 6:31 AM, Anonymous nguyen said...

Wow! I've never seen individual saucers of banh beo before. I need to go check this place out for myself.

 
At 7:33 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

nguyen,

I wonder if you can tell me if this is the traditional way it is served.

 
At 11:22 AM, Blogger Beach said...

Elmo,
It is a traditional way to serve " Banh Beo" in individual plate. They do the same thing in VN. You can order the same thing at Rendezvous at the corner of Mc Fadden and Brookhurst. What this restaurant serve is NOT necessary new but maybe different in taste.

 
At 2:03 AM, Anonymous Nguyen said...

Hmmm I'm not sure if it is the traditional way or not. The way that I've always had it is a whole bunch of banh beo would be piled on a plated. Kind of like family style and you would just take whatever amount you like. Then pour fish sauce over it.

 
At 10:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elmo,

Darn it! I had typed out a whole msg and then when I signed on the beta version deleted everything.

It's been a while but I was remembering Quan Hy's banh beo as slightly less than $5? Try the bun mit (green jackfruit noodles). The jackfruit isn't yellow but actually rather fleshy colored? I dunno if it's new to you but it was definitely something I hadn't had anywhere else.

Last summer in my hometown in south-central Vietnam, I had banh beo in batches of 10 for 20 cents. I could treat my whole family for only a few dollars.

BTW, a lot of the "banh" dishes originated in Hue where they were prepared for the emperor. He would only sample a few bites of each dish bc there were tons of dishes to choose from. Hence, banh beo being served in individual dishes. But nowadays, people can make a meal out it, and that's why in the to-go places you see containers with a mound of the banh beo.

Anyway, just some useless trivia.

And speaking of multi-course meals, have you tried Nhu Y Fish in 8 courses in FV?

Oh! And congratulations about making Best of OC!

Wandering Chopsticks

 
At 10:49 PM, Blogger Rasa Malaysia said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 10:50 PM, Blogger Rasa Malaysia said...

Looks like Quan Hop and Quan Hy have very similar menus...

 
At 10:25 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

beach and nguyen,

Thanks for the clarification. If you guys try Quan Hop or Quan Hy, let me know your impressions.

wandering chopsticks,

That's fascinating! I imagined that was the deal with this type of food; small portions so that royalty can pig out on the array of dishes without filling up on any one dish.

I haven't been to the 8 courses of fish, but now I'm quite interested in knowing more about it. Actually, now that I think about it, I have passed that place!

Rasa Malaysia,

I heard that Quan Hy is bigger, grander, and has a more complete menu (but no pho). I'm going to try it the next time I get a chance.

 
At 7:51 AM, Blogger Wandering Chopsticks said...

Hey Elmo,

8 courses of fish is like 7 courses of beef. The 8th is Hanoi style sizzling fish with dill. So you get eggrolls, grilled for rice paper, rice soup, grilled with some kind of herb leaf, etc. I think it's around $16 for one person's portion? Meaning two small pieces of each course. I usually just get one portion to share and then order a normal dish on top of that. They also do a brisk business in whole baked catfish which can be eaten with toasted and normal rice paper.

BTW, I did a review of Saigon Bistro last night. Ever been there?

 
At 9:04 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Wandering Chopsticks,

Wow, $16/person! That's not bad at all. I'll have to try it come Lent. Or maybe sooner! I've heard of Saigon Bistro, and even seen it, but haven't had the pleasure yet. I'm going to check out your review right after I put this post in.

 

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