I've never tasted dog before, nor am I seeking to, but would chomp on some meat if the opportunity ever presented itself. I hear rumors of all types of illegal meats offered in Orange County restaurants (endangered sea turtle, horse, dog, etc.), but haven't bothered to check them out.
I do like goat, though. So when a friend suggested we meet, I asked we eat some Vietnamese-style chivo to catch up. He suggested Ngon Restaurant in Garden Grove, since Little Saigon's main purveyor of goat (those who know–shush! Am finally reviewing it soon..) was closed that day.
Ngon's menu is encyclopedic–and that's just the one for wayward gabachos. Another offers specialties like deer, boar, clams, squid, and what my amigo wanted me to try–mock dog.
Apparently, dog is enjoyed enough in Vietnam so that stateside cooks have concocted a couple of dishes using goat as a substitute meat. The first one we tried was de nhua man, a type of stew which my friend gamely volunteered was the Vietnamese version of birria. Not even close–while birria's consomme is a bit oily, and the meat usually bone-in or shredded, the broth in the de nhua man was nearly gelatinous. The goat cuts were yellow due to the chunks of fat attached, and more than a few kept both the skin and tendon intact. All the fat meant the soup still steamed an hour into our conversation, and that the buttery essence of fat overwhelmed any of the goat's luscious gaminess. A bit much for me, honestly, but a perfect meal for those stuck in Arctic climes. I forgot to ask my pal what distinguished this dish as mock dog from, say, a straightforward version involving goat, though.
Much easier to imagine the mock dog was in a sizzling plate of goat ribs. Accompanying the dish in the obligatory plate of herbs was a crimson-colored root my friend called rieng. It wasn't galangal, wasn't ginger, but something many times more potent: just a sliver, juicy and moist, produced a metallic taste that will make palates more genteel than mine wince. My pal said this root was used only when cooking dog, and that its inclusion here was meant to make eaters reminisce about the real deal. A bite of rib dunked in shrimp paste, a chaser of rieng, and I can see how men can spend an afternoon eating dog and knocking back beers, as per is the dining custom in Vietnam.
I might review Ngon in the future, because they also had an aguachile-style dish the likes of which I had never seen in a Vietnamese dive. But the restaurant has a secret I don't really want to tell–nothing insidious or even surprising, but something you'll find out quite fast next time you're hankering for pretend pooch. Just look at the signs…
Ngon Restaurant, 10572 McFadden Ave., Garden Grove (714) 839-7920. Seriously: the signs!