Monday, October 27, 2008

Trieu Chau - Santa Ana

I was bummed when Noodle Avenue folded. For me, this restaurant -- which couldn't decide whether it wanted to be Pei Wei clone or a true noodle shop -- was my comfort-food place. It was my corner diner; my Monk's Cafe.

I never touched Noodle Avenue's stir-fried stuff -- too pedestrian, and frankly, not very good. In fact, I ordered nothing but the House Noodle. It was fast, cheap, slurpably dependable, and I didn't have to go far to get it.

Its proximity was everything. Everyone should have a noodle shop like this a few clicks from their place of work or domicile. To me, Noodle Avenue was both.

But if there's something good that came from Noodle Avenue's demise, it's that it lit the fire under my feet to try Trieu Chau -- the restaurant that Noodle Avenue owes its existence to.

And when I finally made the pilgrimage, I realized that it was like I had being going to California Adventure, while never having been to Disneyland -- a silly thing to do.

Noodle Avenue had nothing on the original.

I had read all about Trieu Chau going in; stories of its legendary noodle soups, coupled with horrifying tales of its divey-ness. One in particular comes to mind. It involves fellow food blogger Dylan (aka Noodle Whore) of Eat Drink & Be Merry and toenail clippings. He writes:

Trieu Chau Restaurant is so packed that the practice of joining 2 parties into 1 table is all too common. I once got hooked up with a grandpa and grandma. We didn't say a word to each other as we happily slurped our noodles and soup. Until... grandma busts out her NAILCLIPPERS. Ok, I thought, that's fine, she's going to clip her fingernails. Then without notice of me, she props her foot onto her chair and starts clipping away.... laying her finely incised TOENAILS onto a napkin which was already sharing real estate with a duck bone she had cleaned out.

But these details weren't what kept me way: It was the distance.

To me, instant gratification and noodles go hand-in-hand. My sentiments are echoed by Homer Simpson in this scene:

Moe: This baby can flash fry a buffalo in 30 seconds!

Homer: Awwww, but I want it now.

Trieu Chau, however, was worth the wait, and the drive.

The restaurant is exactly as I expected. The place is a little grimy; the scene, a bit chaotic. A few ceiling tiles are off-colored and the floor isn't always clean. In other words: It is authentic.

The service, however, is shockingly efficient and friendly. When fellow food blogger James Boo of The Eaten Path and I ate there together for the purpose of a joint review, we ordered and received our steaming bowls in less time than it takes for a Whopper to be assembled. And for some reason, the person serving it was wearing a latex glove.

Each table is supplied with more condiments than I knew what to do with. Sriracha. Sugar. White pepper. Two kinds of pickled chili pepper (red and green). Fresh Thai bird chilis. Salt. Dried chili flakes. Hoisin. Soy. Fish sauce. Chopped peanuts. Chili garlic sauce. All provide pathways to infinite customization.

Best of the group is a sweetish, savory chili paste swimming in oil. On this visit, I dabbed just a touch of it on top of each bite of meat. But on a previous noodle run, a pain-lovin' co-worker slopped spoonfuls of it directly into his broth. The result looked like shark chum or the receiving tray of a wood chipper after a terrible accident.

Even if he hadn't done this, the bowls Trieu Chau serves aren't for the faint of heart. You'll find liver in it -- big, inelegant chunks that tastes of, well...liver.

And don't expect cleanly sliced white breast meat. No, what I got were dark meat chicken and duck pieces, still on the bone, and hacked hapzardly with a cleaver. Both were chopped with a flagrant disregard to the location of the animal's actual joints. As an inevitable consequence, there were occasional fragments of bone in the soup. Spitting them out into a napkin is not frowned upon; it's expected.

The meat that clung to those bones, however, was perfect -- especially enjoyable when there's a scrap of its gelatinous skin attached.

Along with them, my bowl of Chao Chow Rice Noodle ($5.25) contained shrimp, meat balls, fish cake, and an uncharacteriscally lean hunk of pork.

But it's the broth that tied it all together. And it was marvelous -- a hot, glorious, mouth-filling nectar wrung from the soul of bird and hog. I'm not sure if MSG was involved, but for sure there were fried garlic bits that exploded in bursts of flavor.

Each serving also came with a plate of blanched bean sprouts and wedges of lime. The sprouts were just about the only vegetable in the dish (save for the diced scallions). The lime juice brightened the brew.

If you come in the morning hours, Trieu Chau has fried Chinese doughnuts, served even if you didn't order it, and charged to your bill only if you consume it. I don't know what would happen if you decided to just leave it untouched.

But when it's offered to you, you might as well eat it; It's part of the Trieu Chau experience. Though the toe-nail incident isn't, you shouldn't rule that out either.

Trieu Chau
(714) 775-1536
4401 W 1st St
Santa Ana, CA 92703
To read James of The Eaten Path's review
CLICK HERE.
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20 Comments:

At 10:20 PM, Blogger dumplings said...

Elmo,

I have been going to this restaurant with my family and friends for ten-plus years. Try their fried rice next time you go. It is the second best item on the menu, and probably the best 'yang chou' fried rice you will ever have.

 
At 12:06 AM, Anonymous James said...

The Dank, Elmo! The Dank!

 
At 4:52 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

Sounds good except for the liver. I hate liver.

 
At 6:38 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

Haven't been in years, but there's always a line out the door, as I drive by on my way to Hoa Binh.
Will have to get in there again, but please.. hold the liver & toenails..lol

 
At 9:26 AM, Anonymous Marvin said...

I would go fairly mad with all those condiments and probably ruin a perfectly good bowl of noodles by using more than I should.

 
At 12:55 PM, Blogger Bill said...

LOL - I gotta give props to this place. If the portion wasn't generous and good I doubt I could look past the dirty grimy carpet, the sticky table, smudge stain forks, the greasy stain chairs and sharing a table with some other than the nail clipping lady ;-)
If it doesn't kill ya it will make you stronger. Oh yeah and right next door is Newport, yum the house special lobster.

 
At 1:10 PM, Blogger Diana said...

Hi Elmo,

Your picture makes the place looks bright and cheery. Their kuetiau (sp?) is very good, reminds me of Indo. My office is hooked on their food ansd usually orders them on weekly basis.

 
At 3:09 PM, Blogger melissa said...

You had me at Fresh Thai bird chilis. Mmmm. Buuurn.

I do know where this place is. I went to try Siam Taste of Asia about 8 weeks ago and they were closed for another 45 minutes, so I drove around, exploring the area since I have never been near there (nope, never been to Little Saigon at all). Saw Trieu Chau and noted it 'cause I had seen it on Yelp enough.

Aside: If you haven't tried Siam, YOU NEED TO. Crispy seabass with green curry. PRONTO!

Ahem.

But you apparently do live really close to me, so I know that this place isn't that far, you lazy bastard. ;)

The broth is all important to me, so you can bet I am going to try this place. Promise.

 
At 7:57 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Dumplings,

And I love yang chou fried rice! Thanks! That's one I'll definitely order next time.

James,

LOL! God forbid someone at Trieu Chau listens to all this talk about the divey-ness and turns the place into Uncle Moe's Family Feed Bag! BTW, that episode of the Simpsons is one of the best ever! It also has Bart selling his soul to Milhouse, and in turn, he sells it for pogs.

Milhouse: "Remember Alf? He's back! In pog form!"

Juliet,

Yep, couldn't agree more. As you can see in the last shot, I also left the liver untouched. Blech!

Christoofat,

The parking is also a nightmare if you get there at the wrong time. Luckily, I went early. No lines, and I didn't even get a chance to sit with a stranger. I've had to on one previous occasion though -- but thankfully those people did their toenail grooming before they came.

Marvin,

One of these days I plan on trying each one out. It's a veritable condiment buffet!

Bill,

Exactly. This place will test the mettle of anyone who really wants to do Asian food the way it's usually done in Asia (especially SouthEast Asia), in an un-sanitized hole-in-the-wall. This ain't Bennigan's, that's for sure.

Diana,

I was thinking that when I put up the picture. Though it's not that scary in the daytime, because you see where the stains are. And oh yeah, I must inform people that the place closes at 5 PM.

I'll have to try their kuetiau. Sounds awesome.

Melissa,

HAHA! You got me there! ;-) In fact, I just said to my friend the other day when we made another Trieu Chau run, "You know, the more I make the drive here, the closer it seems". Next, it'll be Siam Taste of Asia...I've heard nothin' but praise, including yours.

 
At 2:33 PM, Blogger Veronica said...

Thank you for posting this.
My husband and I are pretty bummed when we found out that Noodle Avenue is closed.
Just like you, we live in Irvine...and don't feel like driving.
I have to thank Diana for the hint on the kwetiau sapi. I'll definitely try that on my visit there.

 
At 4:20 PM, Blogger melissa said...

I've eaten at Siam 8 times in the past 10 weeks or so (!) and have tried the beef basil, papaya salad (extra spicy mmmm), grilled beef salad, chicken larb, chicken pad thai, egg rolls, fried tofu (a MUST), and that crispy sea bass. Everything is good, but I would recommend the fish and beef basil above the rest.

 
At 10:28 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Veronica,

Ah, a fellow Noodle Avenue fan. There aren't many of us (which is why they went under)...but trust me, Trieu Chau is soooo much better! Even if it is a bit of schlep. But it does seem shorter the more you visit.

Melissa,

Holy smokes! 8 times in 10 weeks? OK. I'm convinced. BTW, I'm so backlogged with posts. I still have to write up on my trip to Sushi Murasaki (another rec of yours!) and Renu Nakorn.

 
At 11:49 PM, Anonymous mimi said...

I am also a Noodle Ave. fan. I can't recall exactly the time. But in the summer, one day I went to Noodle Ave., I saw the sign of change of ownership outside. While suspecting, I went in and found the food still the same. The man stood behind the counter looks like relative or friend of the previous owner??? I hadn't have a chance to go back again. Now very surprised to learn that it's closed.

 
At 9:59 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

mimi,

I, too, saw the sign change over the summer. But they apparently didn't serve the same food anymore from that point. If it is the same owners, I'm not sure their decision was the wisest one -- especially with prime soup slurping season upon us. And there's people like us -- I'll have noodle soups whenever!

 
At 12:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello,

Just a bit info that I know. Please correct me if I am not laser precise.
Noodle Avenue was owned by the son(s) of NEW Trieu Chau at the corner of Brookhurst and Westminster. Trieu Chau (TC) serves an almost identical menu with New Trieu Chau (NTC). I was told (not confirmed) that once they were the same company. IMO, TC has a better dry-style yellow noodle (soup on the side) and a thicker soup. I personally like to eat wonton with a lighter soup that NTC serves. So, NTC is my choice for wonton soup (with large white noodle/ho fun/hui thieu) and TC is my choice when I am craving for yellow dry noodle. In addition, TC has a really delicious home-made fish ball while NTC has a really delicious shrimp/crab balls (goh yong). I hope this helps.

 
At 2:02 AM, Blogger joanh said...

hahah.. If I got fried doughnut served to me, I would have assumed it was a free appetizer like bread, but I would probably eat it anyways!

 
At 6:10 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Anon,

Thanks for the background. I've always wondered how they were all connected. Now I know! But TC is TC (Top Chef) in my book, simply because I'm a thick, rich broth fan!

joan,

You and me both. I ate it thinking it was free, but was glad to pay for it when I found out it wasn't. Besides I didn't want to argue with them -- I intended to come back often!

 
At 7:34 PM, Anonymous Liss said...

Hi Elmo,
I am just giving you a little heads up on the "kuetiau," entree...and kuyteav (pronounced cuy-theo) is just the Khmer word for white noodles/vermicelli. However, the word has extended its meaning to the whole noodle soup in general. On the other hand, egg (yellow) noodles are called "mi." The operators of the restaurant are Chinese Cambodian, and the house special noodles are known as "kuyteav Phnom Penh" for its Khmer variation on the noodle soup, and correspondingly known has "hủ tiếu Nam Vang" in Vietnamese, as Nam Vang is the old Vietnamese name for Phnom Penh. There are also variations on whether you want the fat/thick noodles or regular vermicelli, or even egg noodles...I personally like the house special myself with the egg noodles...all the better to slurp with! =)

 
At 2:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We've been going here for nearly 20 years now. I remember when they last renovated and my family almost died of withdrawal waiting for them to re-open. It's a great restaurant with the same waiters/family members, same cooks, same menu. It's the first thing I get after coming back for holidays. But yes, there is a ton of MSG in the soup, which is a little unnecessary.

There's another restaurant in the same plaza that has really good friend lobster.

 
At 8:42 PM, Anonymous Rathana said...

Its pronounces "ka tieu". Get it right

 

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