Friday, January 23, 2015

Saigon Eden

We started this blog aiming to find overlooked little places and cheap food we might have ignored otherwise. It can be a little overwhelming heading into the San Gabriel Valley with that as your only goal, but it's rich in source material. Saigon Eden, a Vietnamese restaurant in Alhambra, fit the bill perfectly. It's insanely cheap--two non-alcoholic drinks, a giant appetizer, and two entrées cost less than $30. And the meal came with a complimentary dessert. The restaurant is cute and cozy and the food is homey. Most of the SGV restaurants we go to are divey, but they serve serious cuisine. Saigon Eden does not. It's the Vietnamese version of the diner around the corner from your house--it's fast, cheap, it hits the spot, and you go there all the time. 

First off, the atmosphere is wonderful. We've gotten pretty accustomed to packed little dining rooms and haphazard decor, but whoever designed Saigon Eden actually knew what they were doing. The brightly-colored fairy lights outside, warm interior, sturdy wood tables and chairs (instead of the usual laminated conference room furniture), and awesome-weird waterfall things inside really made it a lovely place to have a meal. The menus were expansive, with soups, noodles, curries, and all a whole slew of Vietnamese drinks. Guided by an insatiable desire for egg rolls and the little pictures next to menu items (they really help!), we set out to make some tough choices.

Chả Giò

They are egg rolls, more or less. These guys had perfectly crunchy, not oily, deep fried rice paper wrappers, and filled with ground pork, shredded carrot, and wood ear mushrooms.  Chả giò are finger food. We wrapped the rolls in a lettuce leaf, garnished them with Thai basil and some other aromatic in the mint family that we could not identify, then added pickled carrots and daikon and sliced cucumbers. Then we dunked the whole shebang in nước chấm, the traditional sweet, sour, salty, and spicy dipping sauce*. The filling wasn't anything to write home about, though the texture was perfectly nice, but the combination of all the things was great. The dish is satisfyingly fatty, but not overwhelmingly so due to the lettuce and aromatics, while the pickles and sauce punch up the flavor. Note to the dainty and polite: You will have sticky sauce all over you after eating these. Embrace it.

*We did not know what to do with all the garnishes the first time we got egg rolls at Golden Deli. We creeped on the other diners a little to learn their ways.

Friday, January 9, 2015

It Makes A Szechuan Impression

So it's been a little less than a year since we last posted. Oops. But! We have exciting news! Julie and Nat got married! And we've been trying new Szechuan restaurants!

We've been hyping Chung King Restaurant in San Gabriel to anyone who would listen since we first tried Szechuan food there four years ago, soon after we arrived in Los Angeles. We were crazy about the complex flavors, our mala-numbed mucus membranes, and the euphoria-inducing spice. Seriously, if you're feeling sluggish, eating good Szechuan noodles will perk you right up. Several weeks ago we were on our way to Chung King with our friend Blake (the witness at our wedding!) in the backseat, having promised him that his virgin taste buds would be blown away. Julia happened to check their Yelp page and saw that the restaurant had changed hands and the chef moved to San Diego. Calamity and misfortune! We were so disappointed. We never got to blog about our favorite restaurant! But we couldn't leave Blake's taste buds hanging; we Yelped where the former patrons of Chung King are hitting up for their fix now. There were a couple excellent options in the diaspora (they'll all be on here eventually), one caught our eye for tonight: Szechuan Impression.