Asian Food? Go Southeast…   Leave a comment

A few weekends ago, I took my first trip to southeast Portland, home to Wong King's (although I didn't visit there, only passed by and looked/sniffed longingly…). Despite the pretty gates and the Chinese Garden, the Chinatown located downtown is not the location where to find the true Chinese community of Portland. Although immigrants stated here back in history, they have since migrated out to a more affordable location, taking their authentic grocery stores and restaurants along with them.

It was a long ride to the SE Division Max stop via the Green Line from PSU and a walk to 82nd and a unassuming lil strip mall location. As soon as you walk a block or so down though from the Max station, the store signage in multiple languages appear to confirm you are in the right place. This particular evening I headed towards a newly opened restaurant, Quan Linh Asian Bistro, to support a young acquaintance's family restaurant at a set group dinner.

He was a bit too excited about the deep fryer, based on the amount of items cooked in container oil that appeared on the table, but I too remember in my 20s how much fun and delicious anything deep fried is. His menu also boasts a lot of photos to help identify the variety of dishes on the menu. The dishes are the flavors of home cooking, though the home cooking doesn't really offer a lot of veggies in the mix and it's not exactly the home cooking that you would necessarily travel all that far for as it's a particular family's taste…But if you shrug off that you can't expect mom and dad to be fancy here, they do have some tasty specialities in the mix if you can just figure out what dishes they are. The name includes the word bistro and tries to advertise fusion, but it's pretty much a Chinese with some extra Vietnamese or Thai thrown in, partially dialed back from the real deal for the original dish but definitely not Americanized flavor profiles either. The hole in the wall is bare and functional, something you'd expect to see with a "garage door open/close" in southeast Asia, though thankfully much cleaner.

We started with, as we waited for other party members that were more than 30 minutes late (and half of which didn't end up showing up), some fried fish balls that really really need to be served with sriracha.   
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Next to the table was a shrimp papaya salad. The right ingredients were there, and I appreciated the fresh big shrimp, but I would have liked it to go all the way with some dried shrimp or crab bits in the mix for saltiness and more chilis to sucessfully produce the mix of tart (from the lime juice), sweet, spicy, salty and bitter and soft and crunchy. Yeah, I just want a som tum with understandably toned down heat. 

The Fried Vietnamese Spring Rolls were nothing different then any other spring roll anywhere else. More seasoning in the meat could make this decent, as it was executed as expected. Also, they should have been served before the shrimp papaya salad.

The Salt and Pepper frog leg needed more salt and pepper to get past the batter but were cooked fine, just not seasoned enough.

Meanwhile, the Pan Fried fish with Vietnamese Fish Sauce was fried a little too long- it was a good crispy, but also so hard you needed some serious knife cutting to get a piece.

Similarly, a little too long frying these gigantic fried tofu stuffed with pork and lemongrass, though I appreciated the concept but couldn't taste past the too well done ness as these things are sponges for the oil and when left that long, it obfuscates the good intention of the pork and lemongrass.

I appreciated the no holding back on types of seafood in the Thai Seafood Tom Yum Hot Pot, though I think the hot and sour could have been upped in the broth to realy make it good. This was a dish pretty well liked by everyone anyway, so I may be spoiled by my past experience with tom yum- really though, as you can see from the floating offerings of the soup, it was so close to really being good if the broth had stood up to the seafood.

Next, the honey garlic sparerib- like the tom yum, so close if it only hadn't been so hard! Had to really pick this up to gnaw to get the meat off the bone, and the meat on the bone was a bit lean, but the flavors were definitely right. If there had been more meat on each sparerib the honey could have spread out more instead of over-caramelizing as much as it did.

Their shrimp braised in our homemade sauce offered some serious shrimp still in the shell. 

The finish was definetely a high note for me at least, Fried Mantou (Chinese Steam Bun) served with Condensed Milk. You won't find these often, and they are exactly the way they should be, piping hot deep fried dough pillow that are light and crispy to be vehicles for the thick and sweet condensed milk. Definitely authentic, definitely a highlight.

I would call this experience like a adolescent version of Joy Yee's (in Chicago), where Quan is still trying to mature into a pan-asian medley and guilty "Asian quick food" pleasure- nothing fancy, but not Americanized, something you scarf down in its greasy glory like you would a Quarter Pounder with cheese because you want a cheeseburger and you know the actual cheeseburger on the McD menu is too dumbed down but you aren't looking for the $10 cheeseburger either. I certainly hope this place doesn't go the way of Joy Yee's in trying to impossibly offer too many dishes and thus hiding the Quarter Pounders among a bunch of mediocre chicken sandwiches in an attempt to have "menu breadth". But, they do need to figure out what tastes really good and make their menu more manageable to spotlight the treasures that will addict people to craving and coming back, not obscure them.   

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Posted July 21, 2010 by pechluck in Uncategorized

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