Quán Ngon Vietnamese Bistro is bánh mì bliss

Quán Ngon was mentioned in a recent Metro Times list of best area hole-in-the-wall restaurants. It doesn’t fit my idea of such: with a dozen well-spaced tables, it’s not small; it’s clean; it has a very long menu; it’s the opposite of dingy, with crystal-adjacent chandelier light fixtures. Don’t go expecting a dive-bar atmosphere, if that’s your bent. Go for the bánh mì.

This quintessential Vietnamese sandwich is enough to return for again and again, and at $7.50 for three sliders, a bargain. A crisp baguette, toasted or not, is spread with housemade chicken paté; choose grilled chicken, beef, or pork for your additional protein. My pork was lightly caramelized for a bit of sweetness. The mayo is made in-house too, the Vietnamese way, without egg whites or vinegar, just yolks and oil. Pickled carrots add tang and cilantro finishes it off. Bánh mì is a triumph in general, a result of local people appropriating from French colonizers, but Quán Ngon’s version is superb. Manager Lam declined to reveal his baguette source, saying it had taken years to find the right supplier. The bánh mì is also available in regular sizes or deconstructed with a sunny-side-up egg.

My second favorite dish was braised duck soup, which is on the list of “traditional dishes” and labeled “limited,” so it might sell out some days. (Some others, such as the bánh mì, are designated “popular.”) A duck leg quarter is slow-cooked with Chinese herbs and then sits in its sauce for an hour to absorb the juices. It’s served in an impressively large bowl of broth with skinny egg noodles, scallions, and shiitakes. Bean sprouts, sprigs of basil, and lime are on the side to add at your pleasure. You’ll have to remove the leg to a side plate for cutting if you don’t want to splash; both Western utensils and chopsticks are provided. Again there was a hint of caramel flavor in the fatty skin, making this a sumptuous dish, at only $17.

Another “popular” traditional dish is Canh Bún — but when I asked for it, the server warned that it was “popular with Asian people.” (“It has a lot going on,” she said.) It’s an enormous, clear tomato-based soup with thick vermicelli, crab and chicken patties, a pork roll, tofu, lots of greens, and congealed pig blood. If the latter is a turn-off, don’t fear; it’s a little gray rectangle, floating in the soup, that has a faint taste of liver. It’s better than the chicken patty, which was rubbery. Lime, shrimp paste, and chili paste come on the side.

Quán Ngon serves 13 kinds of pho, with every combination of beef brisket, oxtail, meatballs, tendons, or tripe. There’s even a chicken or a shrimp pho, for non-purists, and a vegetarian one. I found the combination pho, which contains all of the above, pretty one-note: one good strong beefy flavor.

There are also 13 fried rice choices, mostly with plenty of meat. My companion got the double pork chop with a crisp-edged egg, fried just right. The chops are thin and somehow tender with a little crunch on the exterior. Beef, tofu, shrimp, and chicken are other choices.

Fried egg noodles are the skinny kind, stir-fried with broccoli, red and yellow bell peppers, carrot shavings, and protein. I found the “shrimp and veggies” version fine but unremarkable. As with all the dishes, there was plenty to take home for the next day.

A dozen appetizers include egg rolls, fried wontons, and coconut-crusted shrimp with mango sauce. One night I ordered the grilled beef fresh rolls, two large ones for $6.50. The rice-paper wrap is rubbery, of course — that’s its nature — but otherwise the contrasting textures and temperatures are admirable: warm slices of beef with cool vermicelli, cucumber, carrot shreds, basil, and romaine. A rice crêpe stuffed with shrimp, pork, mushrooms, and bean sprouts was likewise an interesting combination, but I thought the crêpe retained too much grease.

There’s no alcohol but a good list of smoothies, iced coffee, and milk-tea boba drinks. I ordered chanh muối, a preserved lime drink, and found it salty, sour, and sweet all at once — “a lot going on.” I liked it but in small sips. Boba is always fun, with the tapioca pearls slurping up your oversized straw. The “original” with black tea was sweet and fine; taro and hazelnut are on offer too. When you sit down you are offered free hot tea.

Just in Madison Heights, Lam counted six Vietnamese restaurants for me; indeed, there are two others just in the same strip mall. Why choose Quán Ngon? It’s “nicer,” Lam maintains (not a hole in the wall). With 156 items, it would take you a while to work through Quán Ngon’s menu. It could be worth it, though.

Source link

Leave a Comment