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. 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

Monday, September 07, 2009

Vegan Coconut Turnover, Barbados style

Carribean Vegan contacted me and asked if I wanted to be her tester of this recipe. Check out her blog! Unfortunately that weekend she contacted me, I was very busy at work and had to work overtime. This weekend I was able to do it. These are yummy turnovers. You know me, I love anything coconutty since I grew up eating coconut anything.

I used 2 kinds of coconut filling just to see the difference. The one on the left side, the filling is finely grated coconut was made of frozen-fresh grated coconut. I bought it in an Indian store near me. The one on the right side, the filling was Baker's sweetened grated coconut mixed with brown sugar. We prefer the freshly grated coconut, of course, but for a short cut and depends on availability the Baker's coconut should work, too. Below is my picture of the turnovers just came out of the oven.

These turnovers are great served with tea or coffee. It's definitely a delicious snack. I can't wait for her cookbook.