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Phong Dinh Restaurant

 2643 San Gabriel Blvd
Rosemead, CA
 

More "Fear Factor" in concept than in execution

What’s defined as food is relative, so for the most part, I am, or at least, I try to be a tabula rasa as I submit to the first taste of a food that’s considered to be exotic in the mainstream American culture.

If you’re wary of trying the meats not typically consumed here in the States, PHONG DINH is the place to sample them, as there is little to no gameyness, at least to my taste buds…then again, I have an affinity for pungent foods, though that doesn’t really extend over to animal proteins. People who were raised on American mainstream cuisine may find some of the meats to have a gamey aftertaste, though I personally didn’t find them to be offensive.

Apparently, my brain resorts to a seemingly simplistic mechanism when assessing the taste of a species of animal that I’ve never before consumed. In my inadvertently primitive need to relate them to something, I seem inclined to compare their tastes and textures to: (1) chicken, (2) beef, or (3) pork. For the diners who might prefer a more familiar-tasting meat in their dishes, I’d recommend the ones that I sampled throughout the night during my 12-course meal. I was so proud of the relative restraint that I practiced, as one dish after the other crowded onto the lazy Susan (this invention needs a new name…) before us at the round table.

When it comes to rating the tastiness of a meal, I first place the dishes and dining establishment into their proper context. There are certain exceptional meals that I describe as “last-meal worthy,” where I make yum sounds w/ each bite, and that I passionately share about with others with all the sentimentality of a love that I will recall w/ great fondness for the remainder of my existence. I may not classify this meal into this category, but I would definitely commend PHONG DINH for how they consistently procured dishes with balanced flavors, cooking the meats and veggies to the perfect doneness level, and the sauces that accompanied the dishes were multi-dimensional and tasty when drizzled over rice.

I would describe this restaurant as being more Chinese-Vietnamese, as the dishes I consumed were mainly stir-fried, and at least a couple tasted like they were in a kung pao sauce.

The meats were very tender, their protein fibers probably broken down with a marinade that contained some kind of cooking wine, and their gameyness was either cooked out or mitigated because of the alcohol.


Dined on the following:

(1) BAKED CATFISH (their specialty)
Moist flesh, browned skin, though still a bit flabby. Would have preferred that the fish was seasoned w/ some salt, but accompanying tamarind garlic sauce was a perfect compliment.

(2) QUAIL EGGS WRAPPED IN SHRIMP PASTE AND BATTERED IN SWEET RICE FLAKE
There was a quail egg in here? I like fried foods, and I’m also a fan of shrimp paste, but my taste buds failed to register the presence of the quail egg. Nonetheless, if you like fried shrimp paste, you’ll probably like this.

(3) SHRIMP & PORK w/ LOTUS ROOT SOUR SALAD
To me, this dish is more about texture, because I’m simply not a fan of cartilage. There was some form of pig cartilage in this salad, and the presentation of the dish was beautiful, but alas, I opted to pass on sampling this dish.

(4) CHARBROILED GROUND SNAKE IN ROLLEDLOT LEAVES
Pretty much everyone described this dish as gamey, but I didn’t have a problem with the dish, from that standpoint. These bite-sized morsels of snake wrapped in leaves were on the dry and bland side, so that would be the primary reason why I’d pass on this dish for the next time.

(5) DICED VENISON SAUTEED w/ ONIONS
I think this was the dish that tasted like pork. Sauce was well-balanced.

(6) KANGAROO SAUTEED w/ WINE FLAME
As with everything else, it was seasoned well, and the meat was tender…tasted like beef. For you pyromaniacs, you have the added excitement of a flambe show prior to consuming this dish.

(7) SAUTEED BOAR IN CURRY SAUCE
This curry sauce was delicious. Interestingly, this curry wasn’t very herby, and it was slightly sweeter than the usual, so it may be friendly for children’s taste buds. The boar was very tender, and I believe its flavor resembled beef.

(8) MINCED ALLIGATOR w/ LEMON GRASS, WOOD EARS AND WATER CHESTNUT SERVED w/ WHOLE SESAME RICE CRACKERS
This dish had many varied textures, providing a revolving mouth feel. The alligator meat resembled chicken.

(9) MANILA CLAMS w/ BELL PEPPER, GARLIC, AND CHILI
The sauce that the manila clams were sauteed in was very well-rounded and incredibly tasty…I think this sauce was my favorite of the bunch. The clams themselves were cooked just right, where they were perfectly tender, and not rubbery.

(10) WATER SPINACH
Flavor was mild and served as a perfect palate cleanser after being served one meat after another. Water spinach is on the stringy side and tougher in texture, so chew carefully before swallowing.

(11) BOK CHOY AND GARLIC
Quartered, stirfried bok choy were infused in garlicky oil, retaining just the right amount of crunch.

(12) COCONUT AGAR AGAR
I’m personally not too keen on the slightly cartilagenous bite of agar agar, but this was a refreshing end to the meal. Coconut milk was stirred in, and lent its mild sweetness to this dessert.


[ ambience ]

Typical of most Vietnamese joints, PHONG DINH had a family restaurant atmosphere with standard Vietnamese restaurant furniture. The wallpaper of the waterfalls was probably inherited from the building’s previous tenant, but the interior of the establishment was well-lit, and the venue would be well-suited towards larger groups. If the parking is full for the restaurant, there’s plenty of parking in the adjacent shopping center, containing a 99 Ranch Market.


[ OVERALL IMPRESSION ]

PHONG DINH is worth going to for its food, service, and relatively convenient location. I haven’t found myself daydreaming about anything I ate there, but nothing disappointed, and I would describe their dishes as being “reliable.” You can count on having a great meal, as long as you’re not expecting one that is necessarily memorable.

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