Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Valentine's Day 2011 - Xanh Bistro
After years of planning our mid-February plans as early as December, this was the first year we were stuck. Couldn't agree on anywhere. Time was running out. He wanted upscale Asian, but I learned the hard way there was a direct correlation between the decor of an Asian establishment and the quality of food served. So I used a lifeline and contacted a friend. He recommended Xanh Bistro.
We arrived in Fountain Valley amid rush hour traffic feeling a little flustered. Fortunately, we found our location without any trouble and were seated in moments. Tucked in a far corner of a vast strip mall, Xanh is the quintessential hidden gem. A clean, well-lit place where the kitchen kind of juts out into the dining space, blockaded by countertop and a barrier of shiny appliances. This doesn't matter, though, as our furnishings are of dark, finished woods and (dare I say) comfortable chairs. Cool green accent walls keep things light -- almost spa-like.
With the full menu at our disposal, our hearts settled on khai vi thap cam (a.k.a. the appetizer sampler). A trio of their best bites arrived at our table, along with a spouted glass vessel containing the savory "house sauce". Crispy wontons were punched with flavor by a topping of pineapple chutney. Chicken skewers, a seemingly simple appetizer, is somehow made tastier than I can ever remember having. If infusing foods with lime leaves is this delish, then everything should be prepared this way. An innovative twist on cha gio, the yam cake wraps resembled sweet potato fry clusters studded with crunchy shrimp. Cocooning these bundles in mint and leaves proved to be quite the challenge. Dipping melded all the flavors and textures into one messy, chewy, happy handful. In addition, he got the crispy tofu squares, which I loved. I ordered a cup of the mustard greens and chicken dumplings soup, which he loved. Go figure.
Despite the extensive menu of specialty items, our tastes that night were relatively simple. We each settled on a bun/rice noodle bowl. Mine was a grilled pork with egg roll, his was grilled fish and shrimp. Both sat atop a bunch of lettuce leaves and were garnished with an array of cucumber, mint, daikon, carrot, peanuts and onion flakes. With so much stuff, you'd think this sounded very kitchen sink. Wrong. The binder was (again) the umami-ness of "house sauce" that translated the many individual flavors into a cohesive taste. Our noodles almost drowned in it, creating a soup more than anything else. While I primarily consume processed pork, (i.e. Spam, sausage), this renewed my faith in the art of grilling.
Our plates were filling without being heavy. Chef Haley finds beauty in the simplistic. Her specialty is taking a known entree and improving it through superior execution. This corner find could use some wall shades to mask the slate walkway and vacant storefronts next door, but overall, Xanh was our exception to the correlation.
16161 Brookhurst Street
Fountain Valley, 92708
at 10:34 PM