>> Quán Ăn 909 | Eat the World Los Angeles

Monday, 7 March 2022

Quán Ăn 909

VIETNAM 🇻🇳
Quan An 909 facade

COVID-19 UPDATE: The dining room is open and like much of Orange County, there are not many masks used by customers or staff.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The flag of Vietnam is used as a placeholder and not a political statement.

📍 10561 Bolsa Avenue, Garden Grove, Orange County

In Vietnam, the meat of goats is certainly not near the top of the list for what most prefer, but a recent trend of restaurants serving goat pho (phở dê) in a stone bowl have been multiplying and making a splash. Purveyors specializing in herbal goat hot pot (lẩu dê) have been around for more time. While it can be easy to consider the Vietnamese American communities in Orange County to be frozen at a moment in time in the past, in recent years the trends of modern Vietnam have been making their way across the Pacific much faster.

As if you were eating at a goat hot pot specialist in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, or anywhere in between, the simple words Lẩu Dê are put on the front to announce the restaurant's unique offerings. In Vietnam, and here in Garden Grove, most patrons are still not interested in the pungent gaminess possible with goat meat and enjoyed in many other cultures, so the animal is prepared and cooked in certain ways to remove this aspect.

Passion fruit soda

Opening in late January, the restaurant has quickly become a hit with those that have been fortunate enough to find or hear about it from friends. Hot pots always lend themselves well to groups, so tables are constantly being pushed together for friends or family that come in to eat together, and on weekend lunches there might even by a small wait.

As you peruse the all-goat menu, you can order iced tea or one of their homemade sodas like passion fruit ($4, above) or salty plum which are both refreshing. With one of those in hand it is easier to decide whether the table should have an order of goat steamed with ginger or rare goat in lime juice salad.

Goat pho phở dê

If you show up anytime in the morning or before 14:00, you can get one of four bowls filled with different parts of goat, or a combination of three or all four. The phở đặc biệt ($13.90, above) is the latter, filled with sauteed filet, brisket, ribs and meatballs served over a bed of soft rice noodles.

As with any worthy pho broth, this one is cooked for hours and each sip can taste the extraction of all the goat goodness that the time allowed. The broth is a more southern-style sweetish broth that really is completely centered around the animal. The cuts and meatballs are all prepared without any gamey notes while retaining a rich and distinct goat flavor.

Goat curry cà ri dê

This cooking technique was apparent in every dish tried on this day, including the wow factor cà ri dê ($12.90, above), a curry with tender, chewy goat chunks. The complex and thick curry is served with a lime wedge and a portion of spicy salt that should both be added to taste. Without either, the curry is already delicious but it gets taken to even higher levels with these.

A piece of bánh mỳ is served with the curry and can be used as desired to dip in the broth or hold pieces of goat like a sandwich. Even this loaf of bread is not an afterthought, a perfect combination of shattering crispy crust and soft interior.

Hot pot with lid on

If you have ordered the star of the show, lẩu dê ($35.90, above and below), the tabletop stove and goat hot pot will be placed down first and can begin cooking while you enjoy other things. The pot is pre-arranged with all the goat meat, tofu skins, herbs and greens, the aromas of which all combine and get into your noses long before the hot pot can be divided up.

A side of other items that come alongside the hot pot should be added at different times, throw in the taro as the broth starts to boil and the other greens just before you are ready to ladle it out. The pre-cooked noodles can be added or divided into individual bowls so you do not lose them at the bottom of the pot. From those depths up to the lid, the broth is full of the most delicious combination of herbal goat flavor.

Goat hot pot comes with noodles, greens, taro, and a fermented mung bean paste dipping sauce

Seen in the bottom left of the photo above, a very unique fermented mung bean dipping sauce for the goat is also brought with the set. It initially smells and tastes of tropical fruit, but the table was assured it did not include any pineapple. It and the more spicy red paste can be added or dipped as desired, creating different types of bites throughout the meal.

Most of the pieces are big chunks of goat as seen below, and include chewy hunks of meat with fatty skin still connected. This is gelatinous and tough but a pleasure to snap off and enjoy with bites of greens and sips of broth.

A piece of goat from the hot pot shown close

After three straight home runs, it was hard not to feel that this was the most exciting and delicious meal enjoyed yet this year. Conversation was subdued except for various oohs and mmms.

While there has been a goat dish on a Vietnamese menu here and there in Orange County, this is the first restaurant to specialize in it and honestly sets the bar very high and is closing in on perfection.

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