It had been such a long time since the Missus and I went on one of our eating road trips. First I was busy, than the Missus was busy, than I got sick, than the Missus was busy....you get it. I'd say those hours of being sick were the worst. You get into these periods of melancholy, followed by periods where you daydream about being somewhere else, anywhere, away from the body aches, coughing, the irritated spouse, you get it, right? For some reason, my mind kept taking me back to Laos. I can't put my finger on it, but there was something about that trip, that stayed with me......
So as soon as I felt better and we actually had a free weekend day, we were itching to head "up North." And what better place to check out than a Lao Restaurant I'd heard about.
Vientiane Restaurant is located in one of what may be a couple hundred strip malls in the Westminster/Garden Grove area.
It is tucked back, away from the street, over-shadowed by Pho 54 in Saigon Plaza. The sign simply says "Lao & Thai Food". The restaurant itself is tiny, comprised of four tables. When we arrived there was just a woman on her cell phone waiting for an order, and no else up front. We checked out the cold case, and were comforted at all the Jeow (dips) and other items. It indicated that we were at the right place.
Now comes the funny part. A very nice woman seated us, and handed us menus. When we were ready to order, I started giving off menu item numbers. No dice. I started reading off the English, translations.... wasn't going to work. The woman giggled. I pointed to the items on the menu (no Lao script - but English translations). The woman leaves, and another very motherly woman comes out..... same drill. The previous woman comes out, points to the menu and tells me "you read it to me." I start cracking up, the Missus is rolling Her eyes....She always gives me grief over my terrible pronounciations, and this might be downright painful. This was going to be much harder than "tres tacos Al Pastor". For some reason, this exchange took me right back to Laos.... So I start, and it is quite interesting.... "Mok Pa", "eh", "Mok Pa", "fish?"," yes, Mok Pa". "Ooooh, Mok Paaa!" The Missus is covering Her eyes. She can't bear to watch this disaster. At the end of the whole drill, the woman laughs, and exclaims, "you say good!" More eye rolling from the Missus. The woman starts walking back to the kitchen, turns and makes a spoon to mouth motion, "rice, you want rice!" I make the Lao three finger to mouth motion and go "sticky rice". "OK!" I thank her, "kopchai lai lai", She starts laughing, and the Missus has a look like She's just returned from the dentist, and says, "we'll see if we get what you really wanted to order."
Well, at least the sticky rice was going to be right.
A large container of perfectly made sticky rice. In San Diego, I believe that Asia Cafe is the only place that consistently makes perfect sticky rice, and this was on par.
Of course, right at this moment a gentleman enters carrying several sacks of groceries. He speaks excellent English.
Next up, one of my Death Row dishes - Nam Kao ($6.50):
Man this was good, the textures, the pork skin, the mildly sour fermented sausage, the smokey, almost sweet toasted chilies. Served with all the requiredveggies and herbs, this was such a vibrant dish. The second best I've had, next to the one in Vientiane. Crunchy crisp rice, chewy sausage and pork skin, amazing flavors, a symphony of textures.
At first I was worried, as I'm not a big fan of catfish and the muddy flavors. But in this case, the muddiness was muted by the strong savoriness of the sauce. The roasted rice powder added a nice nuttiness, and the mint and galangal helped to cleanse your palate.
As good as the Nam Kao was, the dish that I've been craving is the Raw Shrimp ($7.99):
Even though I know they went easy on us in the spice department, this was a fantastic dish. The shrimp was slightly toothsome and sweet, the amount of garlic and lime was balanced in a never ending tug-of-war of flavor. Heck even the tomato slices tasted good with the sauce! We finished every single piece of everything on the plate, even the shredded cabbage. It looked like we vacuumed the plate. As much as I enjoy the Naked Shrimp at Sab E Lee..... you get the point, right?
The last dish was the only clunker of the day, the Mok Pa($4.00) - fish in banana leaf:
Even though the menu says steamed, it looked like it had been placed on a brazier. The fish was very boney, and not of high quality. The banana leaf also looked past prime, and didn't deliver the wonderful slight smoky flavor that I love. Also, for strange reason, the flavors seemed very muted. Maybe it's because I make this at home once in a while? I dunno.....
Vientiane Thai Laos Restauarant
10262 Westminster Ave
Hours: Mon - Thurs 11am - 9pm
Fri - Sun 10am - 9pm
As went to wash my hands before and after (eating sticky rice, you know) the meal, I walked past the kitchen (spotless clean just like Asia Cafe), and the three women were singing. One humming, two singing different parts of a song. I was reminded of the housekeepers in our hotel in Vientiane, three girls, barefoot (this is Laos), always singing together in harmony while they worked.....
I really don't need much prompting to be taken back to Vientiane....
Or to Luang Prabang for that matter.......
This post is dedicated to some great FOYs (Friends of Yoso) "J & D" who are headed off to Laos in a month or so. I hope you both enjoy Laos as much as we did!
I hope you're all having a great week!