Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dat Thanh - Westminster

A post by Dave Lieberman on OC Weekly's Stick a Fork In It food blog started it all. That was the fuse that led to an explosion of press coverage for Dat Thanh, a tiny Little Saigon restaurant that has emerged into the limelight as The One that challenged the monopoly of Brodard, the Goliath of nem nuong rolls. From there, subsequent articles by the LA Times and OC Register followed. It was a lot of attention fast—a white hot fire of free and deserved publicity that begat building-wrapping lines for a postage-stamp-size of a place that only has, at most, four tables.

Its owner, Hai Nguyen, of course, has been ecstatic for all that’s happened to his family’s little eatery, though, quite honestly, it's hard to tell when the guy isn't happy. Come to his store these days (don't worry the fervor has calmed down a bit since those articles published) and you'll get to chat with him. He’ll tell you the past month has been insane. He’ll tell you that he’s honored, humbled and hopeful that his family’s diligence and hard work seemed to finally pay off literally overnight. He even told us that he’s now considering opening another restaurant.

If you’ve read all the press yourself, you won’t see any new info about the food here: only a reaffirmation of what everyone else has said. Dat Thanh’s nem nuong rolls are wonderful—every bit the worthy challenger to Brodard’s.

First, there’s the nem nuong itself. They make it in-house, of course. The chewy, ruddy, half-cylinder cut lengthwise can be compared to a sausage, though it isn’t one. It can also be said it’s kind of like luncheon meat, though it isn’t that either. It sports a peppery bite, a tactile and playful texture that bounces back up like a spring-loaded hot dog if it had this kind of personality. But above all you taste the honest, hand-made care behind each porky construct; how the Zen-simplicity and see-through translucency of the skin-tight wetted rice paper holds back such wonders.

Inside the roll, it is the heartiness of their nem nuong that sings more soulfully than Brodard’s.

There are other noted differences to the Brodard roll, as has been said. The tucked-in twirled cigar of deep fried egg roll skin is thinner here, resulting in a less skull-rattling crunch than its cross-town rival. And cilantro-averse people should be aware that Dat Thanh’s rolls contain chopped bits of the herb mixed in with the lettuce.

And then there’s the warm, pinkish, thick dipping medium; the nem nuong roll’s life-force; the ambrosial liquid that has become, at least in Little Saigon, the secret-sauce of secret-sauces. Brodard’s nem nuong sauce has intrigued and beguiled the masses more than anything else, a recipe more guarded than nuclear launch codes. And here it is cracked: Dat Thanh’s is everything Brodard’s formula is, except spicier, tangier and less sugary, with all of the magic.

Yes, the sauce and the rolls are great here. Your first pilgrimage should and will be made in sole search of them, but every subsequent trip should be for everything else on the menu. Though a few pages long, their roster is deceptively made up of just the basics you know, done well. The BBQ pork is luscious and a tofu-skin-wrapped shrimp mousse sheds its crispy shards like a flaky croissant— as good as any I’ve ever had. All these proteins are rearranged and combined with others on top of rice or a wispy cold noodle called bun an doused with an equally lip-smacking, if basic, golden fish sauce.

But that’s not all: the nem noung that filled the rolls can also be had on top of rice, basted with a sticky, sugary glaze and grilled till slightly smoky. As Hai will tell you, it’s the same meat, but it tastes completely different when you eat it this way. He’s right.

Drizzle the whole plate with a generous pour of their aforementioned nuoc mam from a carafe, a brew that Hai revealed they make by boiling down the best caliber of fish sauce to concentrate the sweetness.

After every bite and minute spent of your visit chatting with Hai, you realize you are no longer just at the hole-in-the-wall restaurant that dared to challenge Brodard. In fact, before long you forget all the articles, the hype, and the hoopla. You’re just at a good, decent Vietnamese restaurant, with a good, decent man taking care of you.

Dat Thanh
10032 McFadden Ave.
Westminster, CA 92683
(714) 650-0910

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Les Amis - Fullerton

14 Comments:

At 11:44 AM, Blogger polar said...

Elmo~

First, I never heard of McDadden Ave. Maybe its McFadden? ^^;;

I love love nem nuong rolls. I have been meaning to try Dat Thanh for a while and now I have more incentive to do so. Always a pleasure to read your blog, both here and over on OCW.

 
At 5:23 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Doh! McDadden! HAH! Thanks for the correction and thanks as always for the nice comment. You definitely need to check this place out if you're a nem nuong cuon lover like I am!

 
At 6:26 PM, Blogger digkv said...

it's so wonderful when people discover the beauty of Vietnamese food beyond the ubiquitous Lee's and Pho "insert number here". Brodard's is great bbut certainly not the best, Dat Thanh is quite good and i'm glad they are getting the coverage they deserve. It's funny, i've been going here and other places for years with my family and loved the food but never once did I even stop to think about how other non-vietnamese speaking people would know about it. I wish I could give recommendations but my absentmindedness always causes me to forget to write down the names of same truly phenomenal undiscovered gems in Little Saigon, I should probably ask my parents or something. But beautiful post Edwin, it was a great read.

 
At 9:09 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

The rolls look spectacular, but so does that bun. Sounds like it lives up to the photos. Beautiful food and great review!

 
At 6:27 AM, Blogger Bill said...

Yum something close and not jammed packed. By any chance they have the shrimp rolls too?

 
At 11:57 AM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

Great write up. I especially how you took pictures and recommended things outside of the highly publicized rolls to try!

 
At 2:59 PM, Anonymous attran99 said...

What a lovely post, elmomonster!

 
At 5:46 AM, Blogger Bill said...

Happy turkey day!

 
At 7:42 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

Love this place ,& Hai has the pride deserving of the great food they serve there. What really comes thru to me are the attention to the small details, like the consistency of the rice in the com plates, each kernel has that toothsome texture you don't find everywhere. They do not cut corners here. Sadly, due to their uptick in popularity, they had to drop their two excellent soup offering from the menu, due to the time constraints it would take to prep them properly. Their versions of bun bo Hue & bun rieu were spot on To Die For. I hope at some point he can re-introduce them.
In the meantime, I'm happy to nom on the nem!!

 
At 12:22 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

digkv,

If you ever come across any restaurants like this and realize no one knows about it, please, please let me know! Little Saigon's unsung places needs to be recognized and lauded just like this place! I'm so glad Dave singled them out!

Melissa,

If we weren't already stuffed, that bun would've been covered with a lot more of their delicious proteins. I bet their cha gio is phenomenal as a topping!

Bill,

They do, in fact, have chao tom! Didn't get to try those yet. Will next time!

DD,

Almost forgot: the rice! The com tam here (broken rice) is wonderful. Made with care just like everything else.

attran99,

Thanks for the equally lovely comment!

Bill,

And to you and yours as well!

christoofat,

Aw damn! They had bun ho hue?! That's what I get for being the last to know. Oh well.

Anyway, despite the press, this place still needs to be nurtured. Like Cambinos in Cypress, it has all three things I look for in a place: great food, reasonable prices, and most importantly, an owner who I can honestly say is one of the nicest people on the planet.

 
At 4:52 PM, Blogger Greg said...

Thanks for the heads up on this place (ya ya, I hadn't read it in all those 'other' places. Went down there to meet up with a friend who was in the area for lunch today. A plus! Hai was the most friendly guy and there wasn't a giant crowd either. Will definitely come back.

 
At 7:55 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Greg,

Glad you tried it! More glad you liked it! Hai rules!

 
At 9:29 AM, Anonymous Marian the Foodie said...

I went to Dat Thanh a few weeks ago to finally compare their nem nuong from Brodard's and I still think Brodard's is better. However, I love the homey feel of Dat Thanh. The service is way better and very friendly.

 
At 9:14 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Marian,

Hai is the man! He makes the experience!

 

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