Having traveled in Vietnam, my husband and I are devotees of the wonderful food from that part of the world.
Short of a trip across the ocean, Orange County residents are in a perfect place to enjoy Vietnamese cuisine. We have the privilege and gastronomic delight of residing within a few miles of the largest population of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam. According to the 2011 census, about 189,000 Vietnamese-Americans live in Orange County.
If you have never tasted pho, summer rolls or vermicelli noodle salad, just to name a few popular dishes, you have a great treat in store.
As a bonus, Vietnamese food is considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world with its emphasis on fresh ingredients, vegetables and herbs, and minimal use of oil.
Recently, we had the pleasure of dining at Hue Oi in Fountain Valley. The restaurant recently moved to a new location and is modern and very attractive, by far the prettiest Vietnamese place we've encountered.
The front is all glass, the floors are lovely striated gray tile, the walls are mustard yellow and the ceiling is black. Comfortable booths are finished in dark purple leather, tabletops are black faux stone and the walls are adorned with black and white photos of Vietnam.
Although our waiters were barely fluent in English, they were very nice, and the owner was a delightful and charming lady with a wonderful smile who helped us negotiate the menu. She and her husband are the cooks as well.
We began with wonderful summer rolls. These consist of thin rice noodles, slices of grilled pork, lettuce, bean sprouts, pickled carrots, cilantro and mint leaves, all wrapped in rice paper and served with a light lime fish sauce for dipping. CNN lists this classic Vietnamese dish as No. 30 among the world's 50 best foods. We heartily agree.
Another appetizer that we really liked was the deep-fried chicken wings. These had been marinated in fish sauce, seasoned with ground red pepper and garlic and then lightly floured and fried. They had a very crispy exterior, and the chicken was moist and juicy with lots of flavor
Soups are a big part of Vietnamese cuisine and are often a meal by themselves. We selected one from the Special Hue Dishes column. Although we are big fans of pho (rice noodle soup), we wanted to try something more exotic, so we chose the Bun Bo Hue, a traditional noodle soup with beef shank, pig's leg, "pork quiche" and cooked blood pudding in a rich meaty broth with Vietnamese greens on the side.
Nothing in the bowl resembled quiche. We added basil leaves, cilantro and some hot sauce to the mélange and dug into the thick noodles and delicious broth. We discovered thin strips of beef and a piece of bone with meat on it, as well as a piece of pork on a bone surrounded with fat.
All were good except the layer of fat, which was rubbery and not appetizing. We do like blood pudding, but floating in the bowl was a rather dark maroon cube of congealed blood with the texture of firm tofu. It was tasteless.
Bun Tom Nuong is a warm rice noodle salad with grilled shrimp, lettuce, carrots, bean sprouts, cucumber, basil, cilantro and mint, all dressed in a spicy lime fish sauce. Ground roasted peanuts topped the dish. We like to toss everything together for a wonderful combination of textures and flavors. The grilled shrimp were very fresh and tasted particularly juicy.
We wanted to try the toffee flan for dessert but were told the restaurant was out of it, so we opted for the grass jelly with coconut milk. The grass jelly is like cubes of translucent black Jell-O flavored with the stalks and leaves of a mint-like herb. These floated in a tall ice cream soda glass filled with a sweet coconut milk — refreshing, but next time we will go for the flan.
This is rapidly becoming one of our favorite cuisines: light, healthy and replete with lively flavors.
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: 16537 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley
When: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily (except Tuesday)
Appetizers: $3.50 to $7.25
Soups: $5.75 to $8.25
Noodles:$6.25 to $10.50
Rice plates: $6.25 to $10.50
Desserts: $2.75 to $2.95
Beer: $2.50 to $3.50
Information: (714) 531-1305 or http://www.hueoirestaurant.com