Saturday, September 10, 2005

Finding my roots.

I have to start off this entry by giving a little history about myself and my family: My mom is Vietnamese and my dad is Caucasian. They live where I grew up-- in a suburban part of upstate New York. There weren't many Vietnamese people living around my home. In fact, for most of my life the only other Vietnamese people I knew were my mom's few long-time friends who lived in the area and her sister who didn't live so far away. So with that said: Rochester, NY was not a place where you would find lots of nice Vietnamese restaurants. In fact, I will be first to admit that I was embarrassed of being Vietnamese for most of my youth. I didn't like being different, I didn't like being one of the few Asian kids in school, and as you could imagine I most definitely did not eat Vietnamese food. (I'm adding a disclaimer here though that my palate has changed and been open to so many more things recently also. Tastes like cilantro, mint, etc., I would have never been able to tolerate a few years ago.)

Anyway, so I got here to California, and I'm just south of Westminster, home of Little Saigon-- the most highly Vietnamese-populated area outside of Vietnam in the whole world.

And then enter Danielle. Danielle is my foody partner-in-crime-roommate as I have mentioned before. Danielle is also half Vietnamese, like me, but she grew up in a family where she ate Vietnamese food, spoke Vietnamese, etc. So leave it to Danielle to take me and Cathy to Brodard last night. What's in a name? I have no idea. Brodard doesn't sound Vietnamese. I don't even think it sounds French. I don't get it. Anyway, Brodard is tucked behind a 99 Ranch Market. I don't know how anyone would find it unless someone took them there first.

Upon entering the place I saw a sea of Vietnamese people. It was busy. That's good! That atmosphere was sort of like cafeteria style seating, but it was nicely lit and clean. Servers were running back and forth. There was a hum of Vietnamese conversations through out the restaurant.

Cathy and I sat there and just let Danielle order for us. The menu was in Vietnamese and English, but I'm sure the English descriptions did no justice if you weren't familiar with the food at all. The first thing Danielle ordered us was nem nuong. Brodard is apparently well known for this hearty-appetizer (is that an oxymoron?). It's those clear, chewy, rice paper wraps that have become popular at more trendy restaurants recently, stuffed with a green onion stalk, mint, fried pastry (like a deep-fried eggroll wrapper), lettuce, and a lengthy chunk of pork. The pork is cooked to be smoky tasting, it's really flavorful-- and it is ground and grilled so it initially reminded me of something like a sausage. Danielle had told me about these several times-- "We've gotta get the pork rolls..." and they didn't sound so appetizing to me, but surprise-- these were delicious. They were served with a sweet and sour and type sauce, but I don't mean to make it sound anything like the sweet and sour sauce you get at Chinese restaurants. I think it was derived from a nuoc cham-type base. The rolls would have been delicious other wise, but the sauce was just one more layer of complexity to the whole course. I know why Brodard is so well known for these now. (I should note, we got three of these rolls-- which were about the size of a small banana each, and they cost $3.75. What a steal!)

Next Danielle ordered us bun thit nuong. A rice vermicilli noodle bowl came out with some barbecued pork in it, fresh greens, peanuts and julienned cucumbers. We divided this up into smaller portions and shared, each bowl topped off with a spoonful of nuoc cham. Again, this dish was incredibly fresh tasting. The pork was "bbq" but was almost like a moist jerky. What I love about this dish, and I am coming to find that this is very traditional of Vietnamese foods, is that there are many different, distinct tastes in a bite, but you can still distinguish everything when you bite into the food. For example, there was mint and peanuts in this bowl, and while they went perfectly with the dish, the flavor of neither was lost.

Sides to go along with this dish included banh tom (sweet potoato croquettes) and cha gio(egg rolls)-- both Vietnamese staples. I had grown up on cha gio, and therefore no one's will ever be as good as my mom's. I do have to say though that these were some of the better cha gio that I have had from a resturant though!

The banh tom was a first for me even though this is considered such a traditional Vietnamese side. They are sweet potato "fries" all stuck together with a light batter with a shrimp stretegically placed on top of each little nest. I think the presentation was the best about this dish.

I will never complain about the price of a really good meal-- but I will bring up price if I think I get a steal! All this food and a beverage and two beers for: $30. Score! (And I didn't even foot the bill, thanks Cath!)

9892 Westminster Ave
Garden Grove, CA 92844-4900
(714) 530-1744

Directions note: Hidden behind 99 cent store and 99 Ranch Market. In the Fortune Mall.

Service note: Par for the course for an authentic Asian restaurant. Quick but not especially friendly.


At September 13, 2005 5:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your descriptions of the food are quite spot-on! Yeah, thanks much to Cathy for footing the bill! Just let me know when you two are ready to try the do-it-yourself-fried-meat/shrimp-at-the-table experience, which is based on the Vietnamese 7 Courses of Beef meal!

One additional note, the Brodard in Alhambra no longer exists. For some reason, the restaurant wasn't attracting a lot of business. There's a big Vietnamese community in the San Gabriel Valley as well, but I think the larger Chinese/Taiwanese population has much more of a presence in the restaurant business in that area.

At October 10, 2005 11:42 AM, Blogger e d b m said...

hi kimberly, found your blog off mealcentric's page. when i was living in the OC for college, i frequented this place. this is really a nice, clean and refreshing place to eat. even the decor is 'presentable'. i remember having my first nem nuong... the soft rice paper, the sweet taste of the nem nuong pork and of course, the crunch egg roll skin inside. there was one time i spent a good 20 minutes watching the people prepare the nem nuongs with such grace. i also love their bun thit nuong and bun bo hue.

i basically stole their recipe and used pre packaged nem nuong pork and constructed my own version of brodard's delicacy. it tastes great, only i don't really care much for the orange sauce. i simply use nuoc mam.

also, there is a brodard in Alhambra on Valley Blvd. AVOID THIS ONE... it doesn't have the same quality as the Westminster chain.

anyway, great review.

At November 16, 2005 8:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Kimberly, bun thit nuong with a side of cha gio is one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes of all time, for exactly the reasons you mentioned. You get distinct flavors in every bite: fresh, savory, clean, spicy. You've made me hungry for it.

(I found you by way of Dylan's blog, and in particular his travelogue of Hawaii.)


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