A Google search reveals that the invention of the lazy Susan was the work of one of two Americans—Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Edison—but this manner of food conveyance has become a standard component of Asian, family-style dining. I've logged so many meals in front of a lazy Susan that I've developed the specialized skills to properly finesse it. A smooth motion, providing just enough rotation to bring that dish I'm eyeing right to my place-setting, but not an inch beyond. I would make a killing on Wheel of Fortune.
A couple of friends and I have been trying to get together for monthly dinners, and February's spot was Que Huong, a Vietnamese restaurant in City Heights. If you aren't venturing east of the 805 to eat, you really should do your stomach a favor. Que Huong serves familiars like pho, but its menu is so vast that it would seem impossible for them to have every ingredient on hand at all times. And they don't. But if one option isn't available, there are a hundred other dishes to choose from—all the more reason to return.
I'm happy to relinquish ordering duties if the reins are in trusted hands, so a friend came through like a champion, and our lazy Susan was soon covered with good dishes. Though there ended up being five of us around the table, we ordered enough for at least eight. Banh xeo, which translates to “sizzling crepe,” is a huge, golden crescent made from a coconut-milk and rice-flour batter, folded over a filling of pork, shrimp and bean sprouts. Que Huong's version is exceptional, crisp and weightless. The dish comes with the traditional plate of lettuce and herbs, including Vietnamese cilantro (called rau ram) and greenish-purple perilla leaves to wrap around sections of the crepe before dipping the bundles in a fish-sauce-based dressing.
We tried two salads, which both reminded me, strangely, of artichokes. The jackfruit in the first salad tasted like a faintly sweet artichoke heart, with the slight tinny flavor of canned produce. It was chopped up with pork, shrimp, herbs and peanuts and served with crunchy black sesame-studded rice crackers. The other combined shredded duck meat, shallots and garlic with a julienne of banana blossoms, which had texture akin to artichoke leaves just when they start to squeak between your teeth. It came with a side of hot rice porridge that looked bland but was full of rich, savory flavor reminiscent of the Chinese rice congee that I often eat for brunch.
Butter-fried quail and fish-sauce-fried chicken wings came next, both crispy-skinned and delicious. I especially enjoyed the chicken wings with their salty-sweet glaze. And there was more, including the grand production of Hanoi-style grilled red snapper—a Northern Vietnamese dish of tumeric-seasoned fish filets on a sizzling platter with onions, covered by a thicket of fresh dill. The dish comes with lettuce and herbs, chopped peanuts and a pile of tender rice vermicelli. You can put the fish and noodles into a lettuce leaf or pile the noodles into a bowl and layer fish and vegetables. The final touch is a dab of pungent fermented shrimp-paste sauce.
Wild boar sautéed with red and green peppers, fragrant lemongrass and chili had the ideal level of addictive heat, and most of us agreed that it was the best dish of the night.
The chance to taste that dish again was enough to bring me back a couple nights later with a friend who loved it, too. I wanted him to try the chicken wings, but this time we had them fried, then coated in a tangy tamarind sauce. And I couldn't resist the clay-pot catfish, a still-simmering casserole of fish and sliced pork belly in a sticky, caramelized fish sauce that's the perfect condiment for a bowl of white rice. Write to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.