Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lua Bistrot - Garden Grove

Restaurant Week, Schmestaurant Week. O.C.'s annual eatery bargain-a-palooza is great and all. But since it's over now, where's a shallow-pocketed diner to go for value? Little Saigon, that's where. It's here that footlong, meat-ladened banh mi sandwiches still tick under $3; bowls of pho typically retail for less than $5; and there's a place actually called The $1.99 Restaurant.

It's microeconomic theory at work. The dense concentration of Vietnamese businesses centered around the cities of Garden Grove, Westminster, and parts of Santa Ana and Fountain Valley have always competed fiercely to earn your fickle patronage with prices that almost seem unsustainable.

Take for example my complete steak frites (and fried egg) dinner you see above. It's a measly $8.95 at the new Lua Bistrot -- a toll that wouldn't get you past other restaurants' valet.

If you think I've somehow managed to finagle that fancy steak dinner by slumming it at a sticky-table hole-in-the-wall with an incongruous name, take a look again. I've got pictures to prove that Lua Bistrot outclasses a lot of CdM's and Laguna Beach's overwrought eateries.

Nevermind that it shares a parking lot with a 99-Cent-Only store. With leather black seats, minimalist black-n-white design, and an open kitchen where bonafide gourmet chefs whisk and saute in front of the leaping fires of a stove, it feels as chic as something out of Miami's South Beach if you subtracted the European sports cars and the silicone-enhanced, half-starved fashion models. And besides that, it's probably the plaza's low rent that affords them the ability to charge so little.

The money saved is spent on such premium ingredients as the steak that I had, which I am confident would cost me double at the Whole Foods butcher. It's a gristle-free cut of filet as big as my fist (the menu has it as an 8 oz rib eye*). Slicing it was effortless, as if my knife was a red hot iron and the beef a gigantic cube of Jell-O.

More surprising than the sticker price is its sponge cake-like tenderness. This was a high quality hunk of meat cooked expertly to the perfect degree of doneness: medium, like I asked. Dissecting it was almost pornographic, revealing a carnal, reddish-pink. It's also rested just enough so that it doesn't bleed too much of its juice to dilute the carefully nuanced red wine reduction that's ladled over it.

Its surplus of flavor also comes from the browned outer crust, which is a crispy by-product, no doubt, of a long and loving fry in what I imagine must be clarified butter. It concentrates the flavors, and fuses the black peppercorn stuck onto its outer strata deeper into the protein hunk.

The fat fries that came along were tossed in bits of minced garlic so bold I can still smell it in my breath a day after I had it. The side salad uses a sweet vinaigrette, fancy microgreens, but also shredded pickled carrots and daikon, a subtle but knowing Vietnamese touch.

And of course, there's the sunny-side-up egg, which was fried in the way all eggs should be fried: in lots of oil so that the edges turn lacy, crunchy, and brown. My belief is that even a great dish can be made better with a fried egg; especially when it's done like this.

Other specialities complete a list on the white side of the two-sided menu they give you. Flip it over and you see a black side with the cheaper Viet staples of rice and bun noodles subbing for potatoes and pasta.

I soon discover these dishes are discounted temporarily even further to ridiculously low lows.

"All of this is $4.95", our server said as he ran this finger down the list which included a gorgeous slab of grilled pork chop (com suon) so unctuous and deliciously fatty it must have come from a particularly lazy hog.

It's plated with the same salad as my steak and a rice dome formed from an upturned bowl. The pork chop is seeped all the way through with a lemongrass aroma and a sugary sweetness that almost makes it taste like caramel.

Our next surprise came when our server said, "I'll be back with your check and your dessert".

Wait, did he say dessert?

In the distance I saw our guy pour sugar into a ramekin and then witnessed the poof of a blowtorch, which could only mean he was making a creme brulee. "Surely, he's not giving us a creme brulee for free?" we asked each other.

Oh yes. The creme brulee was free alright. But not just one. We both got complimentary creme brulees. The offer, I suspect, is done in part to get word-of-mouth to spread. Still, it's an uncommonly generous gesture even in the oasis of bargains that is Little Saigon. And let me be the first to tell you: free creme brulees will always taste amazing, and most especially when it follows a $8.95 steak dinner that costs $30 everywhere else.

OC Restaurant Week? We love you. But Little Saigon is forever.

Lua Bistrot
(714) 636-2903
9892 Westminster Ave
Garden Grove, CA 92844

*Note: It is possible that since I came later in the evening, they decided to substitute the normal cut of rib eye with the filet mignon usually reserved for the filet au poivre. Or maybe they do it all the time!

O.C.'s Lenten Fish Fries


At 7:26 PM, Blogger Bill said...

WoW and I thought the economy was taking a dive. Getting to this little is a pain during rush hour but for the price I am there!
FYI there is a little Vietnamese shop next to the 99cent that make really good sweet potatoes fries with shrimp.

At 7:59 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

Looks like a place I need to try out!
Upscale looking, quality grub & affordable - for the win!
Although your pic of that filet cooked "medium"? If that's medium, I'd hate to see medium rare, it would moo if you poked it with a fork! =)

At 8:24 AM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

Now this is a unique, awesome find!!!!

At 10:52 AM, Blogger polar said...

To think its so close to one of my fav places, brodard. I will probably have to double dip and get some of their famous spring rolls on my way out.

MM, you sure the restaurant's name is "Bistrot" and not "Bistro" just wondering..

That filet looks amazing. Prices seem soooo affordable, heck I might get 2 dishes.

At 7:55 PM, Blogger Exile Kiss said...

Hi elmomonster,

Wow, thanks for the review on this place. The prices do indeed seem ludicrously cheap for what you're getting. And it looks like it has some good decor to boot. Thanks. :)

At 8:09 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Oh man!! I was in the area today and I was taking advantage of that fact by looking for a new place to try. I was literally contemplating Lua Bistrot (not Bistro) at 2pm today. It just seemed so non Little Saigon so I ended up going to a brand new place about 100 yards away on Brookhurst called Quan Vy. I was hoping it would be the same as Quan Vy Da (love that place) but it wasn't. I had a decent bowl of Bun but now I realize I should have gone with my first instinct.

At 12:07 AM, Blogger EatTravelEat said...

Ridiculously cheap and pretty looking too! I'll take two of those pork chops since I am such a hog. 8.95 for a complete steak and potato dinner with such quality is simply just a steal. The list of places to visit is only just growing :).

At 7:13 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

I wanna go! I wanna go! I wanna go! Vietnamese (which I am ALWAYS up for) AND steak? (I'm not usually a steak eater, but this kid likes red meat, and I have been ordering it lately.) AAAAANNND creme brule? All for that awesome price? I want to move to southern CA now.

By the way, I don't know if you saw my announcement, but I'm having a girl this time!

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

hi elmo
sorry i'm asking you this is a 'comments' post, but i was wondering if you could email me your email address...i'm going to be in the costa mesa area this weekend and need a few recommendations on where to eat. since it's a friday (and lent), it's gotta be a place that offers seafood...

thanks in advance if you're able to do this.

At 10:22 PM, Anonymous kelly von Hemert said...

I heart Little Saigon! Extra points for finding a LS place other than Brodard Chateau that looks good and has great food! Thansk for the gem.

At 6:41 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Oh I love those sweet potato/shrimp rafts. I'll have to investigate. Let me know if there's more than one (as is often the case in these malls).


It moo'd alright. That's usually what I call medium. Though it could've been the lighting. Rare has a, well, raw chew...this one was just slightly set.


Try it man! I know you'll report back here with what you think, but damn it I wish you blogged about food again.


Yes! I was debating Brodard before I stumbled into this place. Now making a decision of where to eat in that plaza has become more difficult.

Exile Kiss,

The prices for the other specialities top out at around $18 for the filet au poivre. Everything else hovers at the $10 range or less.

But the free dessert is not going to last forever and neither are the discounted rice dishes.

Can't wait to see you review it!


I'm glad I went with my first instinct and saved Brodard for another day!


$8.95 is insane isn't it? I'm probably going to have to go back and gorge on it before they realize it's too cheap to charge.


CONGRATS! WOW! BOY-BOY-GIRL! Another girl and you got the whole set! And a steak lover even in the womb. I know a foodie-to-be when I see one!


And e-mail to follow. Any suggestions from the peanut gallery would also be welcome, by the way! I am but just one man!


You're welcome! And I've been reading your stuff and I'm lovin' it! Signed, a fellow Weekling!

At 5:26 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

Thank you! But no sister for this little girl. Three is enough!
If Aria (that's what we are naming her) is anything like her daddy and brothers, she will have an appetite about three times the size of mine!

At 10:21 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Aria! A beautiful name! A beautiful family!


Oh yeah, I forgot to answer your question: It's definitely "Bistrot", which is the proper French spelling. Crazy Frenchies with their silent T's!

At 4:16 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

Thank you! I hope that our family can get down your way to see Dave's family again soon, and have a meal with you as well. (It's all about time and money.) :-)

At 12:02 PM, Blogger ila said...

mmmmm... thanks for the new find!

At 6:06 PM, Anonymous Eileen said...

Thank you thank you thank you thank you for the great find! We visited the restaurant a few days and love everything about this place. Food was fresh and delicious. Service was great. Price is too reasonable. And how can you not love free creme brulee? We will be going back there very very soon.

P.S. I linked your post on my blog. Hope you don't mind. ^^

At 8:58 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Please do let me know when you're here. It'd be great to meet you. Steak & eggs are on me!


You're welcome! I'm looking forward to hearing what you think about it.


Awesome blog post you did. And I'm so glad the Dr. liked the steak as much as I did. Loved your review. I only had one data point (one visit) so I'm glad it seems to be consistent. And of course I don't mind that you linked!


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