Dinh Thieng: Going Wild in Little Saigon
5126 Westminster Avenue
Santa Ana, CA 92703
714 636 3508
Date of Visit: December 20, 2008
When we arrived at this L-shaped café on the eastern fringes of Little Saigon, our waitress handed us a lunch menu. Unfortunately, the menu listed dishes that would be part of a Vietnamese Food 101 class. What happened to the quail, deer and duck blood dishes we’d read about on Potatomato’s blog? Thankfully, owner Ida Vu arrived at that exact moment, producing a Vietnamese menu and helping to resuscitate our experience. The name of the 12-year-old restaurant translates from Vietnamese as “Top of the Sky,” and while Dinh Thieng didn’t quite produce heavenly results, two of the three dishes were original successes.
Chim Cut Roti ($12.95) consisted of a plate of three pan-fried quail, each quartered, all with crispy golden skin and juicy meat, coated in a light chile glaze. Vu told us there was no need to dip the quail in any of our three sauces, but if we insisted, the lemon juice with salt and pepper wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Potatomato ordered the plate of raw deer blood, but based on my experience with raw goat blood at Binh Dan, I decided that wasn’t going to be such a great idea. Instead, Vu recommended a cooked deer blood dish incorporating cubes of grey-brown deer blood and sausage made using deer blood and pig intestine casings known as Huyet Doi Chien Mo Hanh ($9.95). The blood and sausage had very little flavor. The massive portion came showered with flavored fried garlic slivers and scallions. Vu instructed us to dip the food in one of two sauces, either bean curd with garlic and chilies or pungent fish sauce with shrimp paste and chilies. Each sauce helped to a point, but the blood was inherently bland.
We had to wait for the steam to clear before getting a good look at the Suon Heo Cha Chia ($11.95) – curry soaked deer ribs with fried garlic slivers, scallions and lemongrass, served in sizzling cow-shaped platter. The pink meat had a nice char and was plenty tender.
Our waitress presented three dishes of house-made sauce: pungent fish sauce with shrimp paste and chilies (bottom left), bean curd sauce with garlic and chilies (top) and lemon juice with salt and pepper (right).
If you’re interested in exotic Vietnamese dining, Dinh Thieng is worth a stop in Little Saigon, as long as you order from the Vietnamese menu.