Archive for the ‘Vietnamese’ Category

Mint Condition

February 6, 2010

If you’ve spent any time in Tustin’s box retailer orgy The District at Tustin Legacy, you may have felt that the days of stumbling upon a restaurant find are over.  It’s as if your next meal has already been master planned for you. You may forage for lunch on the vast asphalt tundra while you’re waiting for Costco Tire Center to  lower your grocery getter off the blocks, but it’s a challenge to find much other than heavily branded mass produced sustenance.

Green Apple Salad with Beef: fuse it or lose it!

If you’re going to eat in the District, there’s The Winery, William Lewis and J.C. Clow’s singular, lovely refuge that gives the illusion you’ve escaped the  ‘one million square-foot lifestyle center’,  but it requires more of an occasion than waiting out your pro-rated Michelin LTX installment. If you need something a little quicker, cheaper and less bacchanalian before heading back to the office or school pick-up, try Asian Mint.     


Gleaming gunmetal and orange tile accents appear to have been appropriated from an  Ann Sacks on Ebay spree.  John Tesh-type  instrumentals play mercilessly on the sound system. The boîte across from Borders  only looks like the octo-spawn of P.F. Chang’s and Panda Express.  Surprise: there’s just one.  The menu is Vietnamese and Chinese with some Malay and Singaporean dishes and what might be termed fusion.

Dumplings are best left for your next dim sum run. Vietnamese salad rolls are great snack food, but can be weighed down by rice paper as clumsy and rubbery as 70’s ten speed handlebar tape. The amazing avocado shrimp roll is wrapped in rice paper as gossamer and tight as Lady Gaga’s galactic Armani Grammies gown, a nearly weightless vehicle for the succulent rosy shrimp, creamy avocado, crunchy won ton skin and fresh herbs within.   


The phσ is only decent with much fresher herbs and full flavored broths to be found down the street in Little Saigon. For lunch, the tangy tamarind fish is buoyant, its tender texture and mild flavor belie its piscine origins altogether.

  Like a Tarantino flick, fusion cuisine, and terms like ‘Califoriental’ that it conjurs up, scare me with their T & I tactics on unsuspecting dishes.  Asian Mint does a very traditional Vietnamese green papaya salad with beef, but also a version that substitutes green apples for the papaya. Savory beef, all at once glossy, juicy and aromatic is tossed with sautéed onions on a bed of crisp, tart Granny Smith match sticks dotted with chopped peanuts. Not a common combination and not a freak show on a plate, just really good.   

2487 Park Ave. Tustin.714.259.7738. Dinner for two, $25.00, food only.


The Tip Top Point

January 16, 2010


In the banh mi diaspora of Little Saigon, opinions on where to find the best baguette are as authoritative and polarized as HuffPost and the Heritage Foundation’s combative takes on global warming. And it’s not just the bread. At a local salon, I’ve seen trash talking sessions about sandwich fillings get as hot as a Conair Infiniti dryer.

 A teeming social hub well-respected in the cult of the Vietnamese sandwich, Tip Top’s is crammed with loyal congregants gossiping and reading Nguoi Viet. Bread comes out of the massive ovens hourly creating a market so competitive that attempting to sell a cooled baguette in this neighborhood is as dismal a prospect as trying to trade mom’s Weight Watchers protein bar for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos at the grade school lunch tables. 

A Tip Top baguette has a scored and slightly bubbled outer crust that shatters on contact like a pane of sugar on crème brûlée leaving shards of flakiness in its wake. The core, still warm from the oven, soaks up the juicy, fat marbled savory pork  tangled with cool, sweet pickled daikon, shaggy carrot slivers, fresh cilantro sprigs and jalapeño spheres. The experience is at once crispy, spicy, warm and crunchy. And at $3.45, the price is as sweet as the cafe sua da.

A shrill bell channeling an elementary school’s fire alarm sounds before your order number is read. Forget the uninspired American-style sandwiches and leave the Patisserie to Pierre’s Boulangerie down the street, but hustle to the take-out counter: that baguette won’t be warm forever. Tip Top’s Sandwiches 14094 Brookhurst St. Garden Grove. 714.530.9239. Lunch for two, $8.00,  food only.