Nem nuong cuon. Just the mention of it brings to mind the image of Brodard, the pair of Little Saigon restaurants that made these rolls famous. A nem nuong cuon is technically a meatball in a rice paper roll, but those who've eaten it know it's so much more than that.
Nem nuong are usually vaguely sausage-shaped, especially when they're going to be wrapped in rolls. The roll itself contains lettuce and herbs, a scallion, and a piece of cucumber and crunchy fried bits of roll paper for textural contrast. They're dipped in sweet and sour sauce's more successful cousin, a thick, gloopy mixture that's part peanut sauce, part nuoc cham, part duck sauce and fourteen hundred parts garlic.
Every single table at Brodard and its fancier cousin, Brodard Château, has an order of these on the table. Are they really the best ones? Or merely the most famous ones?
To find out, we sampled the rolls at Brodard and the same rolls at Dat Thanh, a broken rice specialist on McFadden just off Brookhurst, where Garden Grove, Westminster, Santa Ana and Fountain Valley get together and do the city tango.
Brodard's, the standard, were slightly crunchier. The chive was fried into the crunchy egg roll wrapper and the cucumber was more pronounced. The meat, however, tasted more like the grill than like the patty. The sauce was nicely balanced but slightly sweet.
Dat Thanh's, the challenger, needed slightly more crunch, but the meat inside was more obviously nem (the meat paste that makes these patties), and the sauce was slightly less sweet. A good hit of chile spice hit the sauce, which made the rolls taste so much better.
Prices are similar; $6 for four rolls. We liked Dat Thanh's slightly more, but frankly we wouldn't pass up either if they were offered. If you choose to continue eating Brodard's version, you're better off at the original restaurant on Westminster Ave. than the upscale Ricola commercial reject on Trask.
Dat Thanh, 10032 McFadden Ave., Westminster; (714) 650-0910.
Brodard, 9892 Westminster Ave., Westminster; (714) 530-1744.
Brodard Château, 9100 Trask Ave., Garden Grove; (714) 899-8273.