The EduOptimists Love to Eat

April 20, 2009 | Blog

It’s pretty funny that we’ve blogged for more than a year without getting into our favorite personal pasttime– dining out. Perhaps because we’ve been so busy parenting and working.

But tonight’s meal warrants our first edu-restaurant review. The place was just so darn good.

I grew up in Northern Virginia — Falls Church to be exact — which happens to be the 3rd largest Vietnamese community in the country. So I prefer pho to chicken noodle, and a good banh mi to tuna salad any day. Unfortunately these things are near impossible to come by in my current life, and my real favorites– for example five-spice chicken and ca kho to — are even harder to find.

But this week we’re traveling in California, and tonight got to Fountain Valley (near Anaheim), where we dined at Xanh Bistro (pronounced Sang, it’s located at 16161 Brookhurst St, at Edinger Ave. in the far corner of Albertson’s shopping center). This very pretty little restaurant is run by a very talented woman, Haley Nguyen who’s an associate professor at Saddleback Community College. (I swear- I chose the restaurant for that reason).

Nguyen’s food stands out for so many reasons, including her use of a wide array of unusual and impeccably fresh herbs and vegetables, and insanely well-balanced mixing of salty and sweet. This is Vietnamese food at its very finest, rather than its most humble.

Here’s an example: cha gio. These typical Vietnamese spring rolls are thin and fried, often greasy and rarely full of flavor. But the cha gio at Xanh Bistro come ready to be wrapped in fresh lettuce outfitted with daikon, carrot, and what I suspect was Thai basil (purple). Wrap them up, dip in the homemade fish sauce, and wham! You are hooked.

We moved from there to the Banana Blossom Salad– a huge dish (at $7.95 completely a steal) combining shrip, por, peanutes, and these lovely shreds of banana blossom plus Vietnamese mint.

I chose two main dishes that riffed on my old favorites: five-spice short ribs (succulent and tender, falling off the bone and surrounded by baby bok choy) and caramel white fish in clay pot. We devoured them both, and complemented them with some tender grilled Japanese eggplant.

Conor was in his element, devouring everything in sight, especially the soy rice milk and the short ribs– and especially dessert– a durian and mango parfait. We all loved the beautiful pictures on every wall (for sale, by Red Moon photography), and the very friendly and attentive staff.

All told, we left extremely happy– and, seriously– we’ve got one night left in CA and we’ll be going back for more tomorrow night!

ps. We’re by far not the first to love this place. For example, check out this review with wonderful pictures.

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