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The Asian Persuasion

Great Asian restaurants, and the Asians (and Chuck Devore) who love them

Photo by Heather XBy Nadia Afghani, Gustavo Arellano, Matt Coker, Theo Douglas, Steve Lowery, R. Scott Moxley, Rebecca Schoenkopf, Will Swaim and Chris Ziegler

There was a time when Asian food referred to two kinds of cuisine: Chinese food and Chinese takeout. Now Chinese has been joined by Thai, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese, Persian, Filipino and about 15 regional Chinese culinary traditions: Hainanese, Sichuan, Shanghainese, Taiwanese, Cantonese, even Chinese Islamic. Asian food encompasses fast food to epic dim sum to haute cuisine and everything in between; from teriyaki with Tapatío to kung pao pasta. It's all good and it's all Asian. Here in a county where people call themselves all of the above, plus Cambodian, Laotian and a Chinese Brazilian taco king, we decided to talk to a bunch of Asians—and Chuck DeVore—about their favorite Asian restaurants. And not just restaurants serving the food of their homeland, but Asian food they simply love. We asked, they answered, you read.


Sa Do at Koji's ShabuShabu
Photo by James Bunoan

SADAO
TELEVISIONPRODUCER
When the owners of Westminster-based network Saigon TV pulled VAX(VietnameseAmericanXposure), a CaliforniaGold-style show, off the air last fall for showing a clipof a video of a picture of Ho Chi Minh, Sa Dao could've understandably quit—and he did. As associate executive producer for VAX, Dao had spent a good year of intensive meetings and scripting getting the show on the air. So after Saigon TV's "slap in the face," as Dao puts it, he and the rest of the VAXgang moved on and found another network, where they expect to air nationwide no later than spring of next year. ETHNICEAT(VIETNAMESE):"When I want straight-up Vietnamese food, grandma's country cooking, I visit QuanHy," says Dao. "Quan Hy serves country-style Vietnamese—a lot more flavor and eccentricity than food like pho. With the country stuff, you taste a lot of different things. They sell a lot of mixed bowls—one is like a seafood medley, an assortment of pork and beef and shrimp and fish and vegetables. It's phenomenal." 9727BolsaAve.,Westminster,(714)775-7179;also10212WestminsterAve.,GardenGrove,(714)636-1652.AMAZINGASIAN:Dao loves Japanese food, but especially shabu shabu, the DIY dinner involving raw meat slices, boiling water and swishing. "I'll go to CaliforniaShabu-Shabuif I only want shabu shabu," he says. 18908BrookhurstSt.,FountainValley,(714)963-8844."But Koji'sShabuShabuat the Block has everything—teppan, sushi, shabu shabu and other dishes. My favorite appetizer is the Angus beef crepes—Angus beef sliced thin, precooked and wrapped around asparagus and onions and a type of honey sauce that's just unspeakably good." 20CityBlvd.,Orange,(714)769-0200;www.kojisjapan.com.

CINDYNGUYEN
BARISTAEXTRAORDINAIRE
Nguyen, former barista at Orange's superb Kaffa, writes from North Carolina, where she is negotiating to purchase a gelato machine in anticipation of her new job: manager of Café Lucca in Old Towne Orange, opening this fall. ETHNICEAT(VIETNAMESE):"The vegetarian AuLachas a lot of good energy," Nguyen writes. "I love their 'pork' vermicelli bowl and the egg rolls. They're very crispy and sweet. You wrap them in lettuce and dunk them in their fake fish sauce. One of the chefs there has taken a four-year vow of silence but makes me great stews." 16563BrookhurstSt.,FountainValley,(714)418-0658;www.aulac.com.AMAZINGASIAN:Nguyen is vegetarian, yet her favorite Asian restaurant is LightTownHouse, a Korean BBQ. "This is where I've found the best mushroom tofu stew," says Nguyen. "It's not that spicy but has enough chile to make you sweat. You can ask for as many mushrooms as you want." She also loves their choices of panchan (the side dishes integral to all Korean meals) but usually eats just one. "Most of the ones that they give out have some meat—even the kimchi usually has oyster sauce," says Nguyen. "But I like one vegetable—it's kind of like a cucumber but isn't. They're spicier and sweeter and served chilled." 8902GardenGroveBlvd.,GardenGrove,(714)638-5757.


Photo by Heather X
LINDATRINHVO
UCIPROFESSOR
The daughter of a U.S. Foreign Service official, Vo says she "grew up all over the place," moving every two years with stays in such high-profile locales as New Delhi, Tokyo, Brussels and, um, San Bernardino—next to Paris, California, where she attended high school. She did her undergrad and graduate work at UC San Diego and her post-doc work at UC Berkeley. Today, she's associate professor of Asian American Studies at UC Irvine. We talked to her by phone at her UCI office. You'reVietnamesebybirthandraisednearAmericanembassiesaroundtheworld.WheredoyougoforAsianfoodhere?I'm looking for the names right now. Youkeepnotes?I keep business cards. I'm a foodie. Iguess.Do I have to pick just one restaurant? Because there's so many . . . I'd start with this one in Little Saigon. It's called Brodard.The BBQ pork rolls are very good. They come with a special sauce that's just really unusual. What'sinthesauce?That's what makes it special: no one can tell. Seems like it has pork. It's warm and kind of sweet . . . I can't really even begin to explain it. But I've had regular out-of-town visitors who insist I take them there for the rolls; they're addictive. It's definitely a local hangout since no one ever imagines going to the back of a mini-mall. It'sbehindamini-mall?

Le Jardin
Photo by Tenaya Hills

Well, basically behind a 99 Cent Store. Then there's DaLatBistro.AlsoVietnamese?Also Vietnamese. It's warmer than Brodard. Warmerambiance?Yeah, warm and casual. It's got a homey, rustic interior—like a village setting. I like the seven-course fish or beef meals, although they have more generic Vietnamese dishes for novice eaters too. Sevencoursesofeach?Howdotheymanagethat?I think the grilled courses count as three! Sowhataretheotherfour?There's a salad, soup, vegetables . . . You can wrap the grilled fish or beef in rice paper, noodles and mixed greens. Really good. I like LeJardin,too, in Fountain Valley. Have you been there? No,Ihavekids.I'mprettymuchlimitedtotakeoutpizza.It's very French. YoulikeFrench?You mean the people, the language or the food? Veryfunny.I had some high school and college French, and I don't remember much of it. But the food is . . . well, I've brought in big groups and had set meals for everyone, and everything was great. I remember once we took a visiting colleague there. We started with a leg of lamb appetizer. It was little but great, a bone-in leg of lamb. And after the salad we had a lobster with beautiful fried onions—it's the little things I remember—and then a pear dish in syrup for dessert. It's more French than Vietnamese; they're very separate cuisines here; they don't do a lot of fusion. Do I have room for one more?

Red Pearl
Photo by Chris Ziegler

Sure!RedPearlKitchenin Huntington Beach. I went there right after they opened and it wasn't all that great. But I returned after they hired a new Vietnamese American chef . . . It's Asian-influenced, not just Asian. Whatdoyoulikebestthere?What don't I like? Everything is just excellent. I think the chef graduated from one of the local community college culinary programs. OrangeCoastCollege,maybe?Yeah, I think OCC. She's amazing. She's probably in her late twenties and the head chef at this fantastic restaurant. It's a bit pricey, but worth it. Brodard,9892WestminsterAve.,GardenGrove,(714)530-1744;DaLatBistro,16525BrookhurstSt.,FountainValley,(714)839-8338;LeJardin,17431BrookhurstSt.,FountainValley,(714)593-8511;RedPearlKitchen,412WalnutAve.,HuntingtonBeach,(714)969-0224.

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