Houston food, restaurants and dining review. Urban living, travel, thoughts and other randomness.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Kim Son (Sugar Land) Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio

Lunch at Kim Son is about as interesting as any Chinese restaurant around the corner from your house. They have the usual kung pao this, and orange-glazed that. But if you turn the lunch menu around, you'll find a lunch portion of dim sum. Since dim sum on the weekends at the Kim Son in Sugar Land is probably the best dim sum in Houston, it's one of the things I get for lunch on a weekday. Curious for a Vietnamese restaurant, but true.

The good Chinese dim sum at this Vietnamese restaurant, might be the result of what I understand as a split kitchen. The way an employee at this restaurant explained it to me, when an order is brought in, an expediter splits the order into its Vietnamese and Chinese components. The Vietnamese kitchen and Chinese kitchen will prepare their respective specialties and then the order is brought together before the waiter brings it to your table.

Today, I decided to skip the dim sum and get the bun thit nuong cha gio, otherwise known as vermicelli with barbecue pork and egg rolls. If you're used to Chinese cooking, you'll get the completely wrong idea about this dish. First, the Vietnamese vermicelli, unlike Chinese noodles, is made from rice. Second, the barbecue pork is not the thick roasted pork with a sweet brown-red glaze. Instead, the barbecue pork is grilled, thinly sliced pork seasoned with a little brown sugar, light soy sauce or fish sauce, and some garlic or lemon grass. Third, the egg rolls don't have thick covering, but a thin rice-paper skin covering cellophane noodles, mushrooms (preferably woodear), onion, egg, pork, and a few other ingredients and spices. Finally, all of these ingredients are placed in a bowl with fresh bean sprout, greens, and carrots placed through a mandolin.

The bowl is brought out with nuoc cham. Nuoc cham literally means "dipping water." There are many variations to the recipe, but the basic version calls for the dilution of nuoc mam (fish sauce) in equal parts water and vinegar,and the inclusion of ground garlic, chile, and sugar into the liquid mixture.

The recipe from restaurant to restaurant is remarkably similar for this dish. So, the entire taste relies upon the quality of the individual ingredients. Kim Son does not use bad produce and usually hits with its nuoc cham, but the egg rolls left something to be desired. So too did the barbecue pork. Both the egg rolls and barbecue pork tasted like they had come out of a microwave or were overcooked. The egg rolls had no crip and the pork tasted a bit like beef jerky.

But in the end, it's the cold vermicelli slathered in the nuoc cham that makes this dish for me. Since the vermicelli did taste cold and they seemed to hit on the nuoc cham today, I'm not going to complain too much.


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