This is the second Andy Nguyen restaurant. It’s actually more of a Mrs. Andy Nguyen since this is run by his wife. The dealio is that she lived in Thailand, eating vegetarian food and came back with a calling for making meat-not-meat dishes, and this Andy Nguyen branch is her playground. It turns out, this Andy Nguyen is more popular than the original!
My brother took my parents here earlier in the year and they loved it, so we came to check it out.
First up is an appetizer, the Treasure Roll. This is simply a vegetarian spring roll, served with spicy peanut sauce. I’m in the mood to show double pictures of the same item, even if one of them is blurry, so bear with me. Anyway. This dish was great, spring rolls in general are great. Ever had a spring roll party? It’s fun and super easy. But I digress. These were yummy and probably my favorite savory of the evening.
Our second dish was called Pure Blessing Soy Fish, which was fried fish-not-fish with seaweed, and thai chile sauce. It was good as a stand-alone item, but honestly I never would have thought this represented fish. Maybe if it hadn’t been fried I might have agreed, but by frying it, it tasted and had the texture of fried bean curd. I should point out here that I really like fried bean curd. Just say it’s fried bean curd. :)
My drink was a Thai iced tea. Delicious and not cloyingly sweet like generic Thai iced tea can be.
Now, it’s time for desserts! It was hard to pick just one thing from the menu, everything sounded good. But ultimately we went for the vegan brownie, with homemade roasted marshmallows and hot peach tea. The restaurant not only gave us three cups of peach tea, but the dessert was on the house! Remember, it’s Ted’s birthday. Now nice of them! I never expect a small restaurant to do this, as every penny usually counts.
But we also got a fried banana sundae and it was really delicious. The picture doesn’t do it justice. Fried bananas are crisp, chewy, soft and sweet all at once, and the hot bananas on cool ice cream was a fine combination. We loved this dessert.
McMarko is not allowed to eat Indian food around his wife. There is something about the spice mixtures she finds unappetizing. So I am de facto Indian food lunch buddy.
The boys got two item combinations. I got the one item combination with chicken tikka masala.
All the combinations come with rice (choice of pilau or plain basmati), naan, and salad with a tangy tamarind and yoghurt dressing. I also got a vegetable samosa, which comes with its own tangy tamarind dipping sauce. One item combinations are roughly $6 and two items are around $8, give or take, depending on whether your selections are chicken or vegetables.
The one item combo was enough for me. I took my samosa and sauce home for a snack later.
I’ve gotten over my shock at the enormous portions of fat, starch and sugar-laden food and am slowly honing down the menu to a few key items.
However, with each new visit, I do try something new and each time I am still horrified by the portion and gluttony of it all.
2nd visit: I learned this time that it’s best to share the mixed bbq combination, so I ordered this for two people. But then I thought it would be a good idea to sample the misubi, and there was a combination misubi plate, so I ordered that, too.
I was under the misguided impression that an item like spam misubi would be somewhere between the size of nigiri sushi and the size of one slice of spam from the can. WRONG. The rice billowed out far beyond the spam, barely contained by a wrapper of nori.
Here’s how we dealt with it all: cut all the misubi in half, so there’s one half for each of us. Poke out half to two-thirds of the rice, and eat the remainder.
We only ate about half of the bbq plate as well. This was 3-4 kinds of sweet bbq’d meats, two scoops of rice and one scoop of macaroni salad. I took home the bbq leftovers, which then provided two more meals. My lunch buddy took home all the surplus rice and made fried rice for two additional meals.
3rd visit: our cholesterol has dropped to normal levels again, and a couple friends admit to being oddly drawn to the misubi. Lessons learned: this time we only order two misubi to share between us. The chicken katsu and bbq chicken is the way to go. They effectively are little burritos of chicken and rice, wrapped in nori. A nice compact meal.
But THEN I think I should sample something new, and those 10 malasadas for $3.99 seem innocent enough. Like doughnut holes, right? WRONG! They’re bigger, and hot, and fresh and completely drenched in sugar with sugar on the side. They completely filled a large styrofoam takeaway box. Who orders this stuff for just one person?! One order should feed a satisfactory portion to, like, five people.
So I’m trying to manage expectations here. By the third visit I should have learned that anything I order will not *ever* have a sensible portion. In the future I will eat here with maybe a group of four, to help ensure we can share a variety of items without having our guts busted.
Chicken katsu misubi ftw.
Some people consider Hainanese Chicken Rice to be a national dish of Singapore. For others, it is simply comfort food that reminds them of home. Home being maybe Singapore, maybe China, maybe Thailand or maybe my home.
The recipe is fairly simple. A whole chicken is boiled in water and spices, and the resulting broth is used to cook the rice. The chicken is cut into chunks, served with the rice, and garnished with spring onions, sesame oil, ginger, and vegetables. Leftovers are equally good.
There are many fine resources for the recipe. Here is a good one.
I packed my leftovers into a bento box, with the lower compartment holding the larger quantity of rice, and the upper compartment holding my chicken and condiments. The chicken is fine to serve warm, cold, or room temperature, but the rice should be heated.
Part of the joy and convenience of using the bento box is eating straight from the containers, but for Hainan chicken rice, I like things to mingle, so I transferred my lunch into my serving bowl. Oh so good.
There is an assumption one can safely make before trying the food.
That is, given that this is Isla Vista, the priority of the food is to make one full as quickly, easily and cheaply as possible.
I set out to be proved wrong, and found my assumption to be true. Meaning – I was fed a generous portion, the food arrived quickly, and it did not cost much. This isn’t necessarily negative. And my dining companion commented that this wasn’t the best food she’d had in IV, nor was it the worst. I agree, it is acceptable, for what it is.
What it is not – and a girl could have dreamed – was the kind of korean bbq that involved sitting around a hot grill, sizzling up meat and vegetables, and nibbling banchan. Or ordering a claypot of boiling hot soup, tofu and other goodies.
No. This is IV. Kids want to be full, and for not a lot of money. So there is assorted bbq meats available on styrofoam bowls of rice, and the popular item on the menu is “half and half” where one chooses two kinds of meat on the styrofoam bowl of rice. Or the plate – which is really a styrofoam box – that comes with a small portion of green salad and pasta salad in addition to the meaty things on rice. The pasta salad is good.
Left: half chicken, half ribs bowl. Right: half pork, half chicken plate, with salads.
A day after I ate there, I saw someone else’s photo of Korean food from another, more metropolitan, city. And I compared it to my photo. I laughed bitterly. This is not the place to be educated on the finer points of korean bbq. My town got schooled.
And did I mention? This is IV. Best approached cautiously with a bike.
Trader Joe’s sells a small pork loin in the meat/deli area, it’s not the insane monster loin like at costco, but a good manageable size. It costs about $7. The first I bought I’d intended to pound flat and either wrap around another ingredient, or bread and fry as cutlets.
Instead, I roasted it. It was simple enough. I rubbed the pork with Chinese black bean and garlic sauce – just from a Lee Kum Kee can, set it in a baking pan, and roasted it at 350 for about 40 minutes. The liquid that came off during cooking was poured back on as a sauce.
Sliced it thin, and it was ready to go. I had it on rice, as seen here, also on steamed vegetables, or as a spicy sandwich filling.