Friday, September 18, 2009

My Vegan Birthday Celebration at Thuyen Vien


Yesterday was my birthday and I celebrated it at a vegan Vietnamese restaurant, Thuyen Vien(translated to 'meditation park' in English). When DH asked me of which vegan restaurant would I want to go for my birthday(his treat), he was surprised that I selected Thuyen Vien. I didn't select a fancy vegan restaurant with expensive decor, professional looking servers serving food on white gourmet plates, silver utensils, cloth napkin, and fancy wine glasses. I selected a tiny restaurant owned by a simple but very nice Buddhist Vietnamese family. What Thuyen Vien has over other fancy vegan restaurants are FLAVORS. As far as I am concern, flavors won over luxury.

After visiting this restaurant a few times, I got to know the husband and wive owners Si ('see') and Loan (and their daughter). Both work as a team of excellent cooks. They have become our friends after many times we talk about vegan food and cooking. Si always wants to create dishes that have all flavors combined and balanced in one dish: salty, sweet, sour, spicy, and savory. Their food is definitely full of love and umami. Both owners love to please their customers and talk to them. That's just what I like in a restaurant rather than to eat, pay, and go. You really can feel their love in their dishes. For example, they got to know how I like spicy food so they add more spicyness onto my dish (even some dishes that don't need to be spicy). The time I like to come is on week nights instead of their crowded weekends because then I'll have a chance to talk to them. Most of their customers have become their friends. Sometimes Si also like to recommend certain dishes to customers. I think by doing that he is trying to know what they like so he can please them.

The picture above is their famous Garlic Soy Chicken. Si has replaced their soy chicken to be vegan soy chicken after listening to their vegan customers. This dish is their customers' favorite. I can understand why. In 2007, their vegan Phở(traditional Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup) was voted as the Best Phở in the entire Orange County. I am talking about VEGAN Phở with soy beef against all the ones with the real beef in the entire county. That's awesome!

Our favorite appetizer is Fried Tofu with special sauce(in the small bowl) and rau răm (Vietnamese coriander). The fried tofu is not just any ordinary fried tofu. It is crunchy on the outside and soft in the inside(Si has a special technique to make it that way). To eat this, the fried tofu is dipped into the special sauce. Then, put it altogether in your mouth with the fresh lemony coriander leaf. Your tongue will be surprised of the flavors combination. Although we are friends, Si kept the special sauce ingredients as his secrets. Darn! He just said that there is some lime juice in it. Well, yeah, I can taste that. This sauce is soo goood. DH said he can put it on just about everything he wants to eat.

DH loves their sushi. Each sushi is topped with fresh tofu, a slice of radish, and a dot of spicy sauce. The presentation is also very nice and appetizing. There is something crunchy inside the sushi and we were told that it is crispy fried banana flower/blossom (Thai and Vietnamese use it as a cooking ingredients). Don't be surprised, it is good.

This next appetizer is a new item, called Seaweed Xao Lan. Si has been asking me to try this dish since I blogged about Vietnamese Green Mango Salad with black sesame crackers (inspired by this restaurant) last June. I think he also knows I like curry and coconut. This dish reminds me of a seafood curry. The ingredients are seaweed, tofu, king mushrooms, coconut milk, curry paste, and other spices and herbs. It is eaten on top of black sesame rice crackers. People may not like the rice crackers but I do since Indonesians eat this kind of crackers we called Krupuk. It's like American potato chips. Krupuk is great with curry on top rather than by itself. Just like this one, I used the black sesame crackers (vegan krupuk) to scoop each bite of the Seaweed Xao Lan. That's the way to eat it. The cracker may not be that great by itself. He made it a bit more spicy customizing to my taste. I LOVED it and ate the whole plate (DH rather devoured the sushi).

Other than the garlic soy chicken , we also ordered Tofu Thuyen Vien accompanied by brown rice. This special tofu (again, he won't share the secret) was rolled inside a seaweed, steamed, and then sliced and deep fried before it was thrown into the wok as a stir fry (stir fried with onions, garlic, tomatoes, and sprinkled with lots of black pepper). It is then served on a bed of lettuce and sprinkled with chopped Asian celery. I bet the tofu is done sort of like making a veggie fish, I think.

Finally, I'll get the credit for this one: my own birthday cake. I made Vegan Coconut Cloud Cake from More Great Good Dairy-Free Desserts by Fran Costigan. I tell you: so far this cookbook has not failed yet. Every thing I made from it turned out delicioso, including this cake.

The recipe of the Coconut Cloud Layer Cake is on page 142 and the Island Coconut Cream Filling and Frosting is on page 145.

I decided to bring the whole cake with us to the restaurant and shared it with all the lucky customers who happened to be there while we were there last night and also to share it with Si and family. It was real yummy. The cake was moist and coconut-ty. I love the toasted coconut sprinkled on the cake.


Si said that I made a good vegan cream for a frosting. Hhmmm...is it my turn not to tell him my secrets? I said to him that it's tofu, the frosting is made of tofu (regular firm tofu), agar, and coconut milk, not margarine or shortening or butter. Well, I guess, if he reads this blog, it's not a secret anymore. The secrets are all in Fran's cookbook.

It was really my happy night. As I was offering cakes to other customers and talking to them about the great dishes this restaurant have, I got invited by a lady customer who is a member of the Magic Castle in Hollywood, CA, a private clubhouse for magicians and artists. She gave me an invitation to come and visit (visitors have to be invited by members). I thought that it was a great birthday gift for me and we'll seek this opportunity very soon.

On top of that, Si took out his harmonica to accompany all others that sang 'Happy Birthday' to me. While we were eating cake and drinking tea, he also serenaded all of us with his harmonica, a beautiful summer song. This is definitely a night to remember. Thanks to all who shared it with me!


Thuyen Vien
11080 Magnolia St (on Katella and Magnolia)
Garden Grove, CA 92842
(714) 638-8189
Closed on Tuesdays

14 comments:

Alisa - Frugal Foodie said...

I love Vietnamese, but have never had vegan Pho; it sounds delish!

I linked to this revie in our dining suggestions on www.godairyfree.org. I think others would enjoy knowing about it too!

Amanda said...

Happy birthday! Lovely story about your dinner. The food sounds amazing and I especially loved hearing about your cake..so sweet of you to share. I've got to check out that cookbook soon. Vietnamese is one of my all time favorite foods..so light and fresh!

Spice Island Vegan said...

Thank you all! I hope you'll have a change to try this Vietnamese restaurant.

Debbie

Fran Costigan said...

Happy happy birthday!! And it looks like it was very special. The photos of the cake are excellent, your description ymm, and I so appreciate the attribution and link. I just adore the large flakes of toasted coconut on the frosting. I've just learned that another baker uses the frosting as a cream pie filling. Why not? Did you use agar powder or flakes..if you don't mind. The restaurant does sound so good, and I am hungry right now.

All best wishes to you!
Fran

Spice Island Vegan said...

Fran,

Thank you very much! Oh, the cake was so good! The best coconut cake I ever had. I gave it away to a few friends so it is now all gone but memories of it but they all love it.

I used agar flakes. Some people told me that if they use agar flakes they fail (whatever they make)because the flakes won't dissolved. I learned by soaking it first (like you said in the recipe). We use agar bars in Indonesia so we know that we need to soak first. I remember seeing agar bars soaking in the water when I grew up. Then, my mom would break it up and put it in liquid (whether it is milk or coconut milk) and simmer it until it melts. So following your recipe, I also soak the flakes and simmer the flakes in the coconut milk until most of them melted. It works.

Debbie

Eric said...

I'm glad you mentioned Thuyen Vien, its a good reminder that I need to go there again!

Happy birthday, by the way :)

The fried tofu with special sauce is sooooooo good. I could make an entire meal out of just that. They really are the best Asian restaurant around, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

I've just came across to your site today and I love it.
About the sauce for the deep fried tofu, I'd like to know if it has a strong flavor? if it's then it might called " tương cự đà " where you find it in the Vietnamese grocery store.

thanks
thanhxuan

Spice Island Vegan said...

Thanks! The sauce is salty and peppery combined with lime juice. I'll find out in a Vietnamese grocery store. Do you know what that stuff is?

Anonymous said...

The sauce itself is very salty. It made with soyabean fermented ( for sure ) and sweet rice ( I think ;) ).
The smell of the sauce is very strong and the name of the sauce is " tương cự đà " so you just go to the Vietnamese grocery store and ask for it.
I think he has to add the limejuice, sugar to make it less salty.
By the way, I do have my blog but it's not vegeterian. I am trying to cook more vegeterian dishes for my family so may be in the future I can share some Vietnamese vegeterian dishes with you ;)

thanhxuan

Spice Island Vegan said...

thanhxuan,

Oh I know that one the fermented soya bean and sweet rice. This is not it! It is salt and some kind of black pepper (maybe sechuan peppers). He roasted the salt and peppers and ground it, I think. Then, he added lime juice to it. It is more of a spice and not a paste. It was dry spice then he added lime juice.

What is your blog? Site link, please? It's ok if it is not vegetarian, I am still interested to see how others cook and sometimes I can veganize it.

Debbie

Thanh Xuan said...

oh, usually we eat deep fried tofu with the " tuong cu da " sauce.
Here is my blog:
thanhxuan-cooking.blogspot.com
I only have few vegan dishes ;) and I do want to learn more :)

Gauri Radha गौरी राधा said...

Everything looks delicious, especially that cake!!

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