Many moons ago, before this blog and the explosion of foodieness in Orlando I dined at this location. My experience was less than stellar and I never went back. When I noticed the new sign “Ha Long Bistro” and some interior work I had to revisit, just out of curiosity.
I was pleasantly surprised. Let’s not get carried away, there is no earth moving change. Just enough of a retouch to make the space more open, bright and inviting. If you ever pass the strip of Colonial Dr. from Summerlin to Primrose and wonder if you are in Vietnam, yes you are. Parking along the road is very tricky, but if you drive one block north or south of Colonial there is ample parking. Actually there happens to be a huge parking lot at the back of Ha Long Bistro. You can either use the back or front entry.
Either entry and you are in a clean, inviting space. The walls are framed art with several shoji screens that can custom move for privacy. To one end of the restaurant there is a take out counter . But since this is such an inviting space why take out? Dine in. The menu is quite extensive. If you are not so familiar with Vietnamese cuisine ask your server to explain the delicate intricacies. There is a short list of beer and wines.
My first visit was a quick lunch. Since it was so great we returned with a posse including a couple of young foodies, who I will call “Young Sage”, and a fellow blogger Watch Me Eat.
Bò tái chanh (hoặc tái me) Fresh eye-round steak with herb in lime/tamarind juice. Tender, succulent, wonderfully marinated with a symphony of citrus and sweetness.
Chả giò (2 rolls) Crispy spring rolls. Crisp, fresh with a stuffing of taro root. Amazing.
Young Sage: I wish the menu description told me more about the ingredients. It was crispy. I think the decoration was a bit plain. I like the square shaped Japanese plate.
Gỏi cuốn (2 rolls) Summer roll with shrimp and pork, serve with peanut sauce. Fresh, light, and refreshing. Peanut sauce was delightful.
Young Sage: I found that the Summer Rolls are not much different from what I have tried. But their sauce is quite tasty. It is not too sweet. That is how I like it.
Gỏi ngó sen tôm thịt Lotus root, daikon, carrots with shrimp and pork, served with shrimp crackers. The earthy sweetness of lotus roots, mixed with nuts and sauces on a crisp shrimp cracker is a sensation that reaches back to clean simple food with massive flavors.
Young Sage: The shrimp chips made it easy to eat since I could put food onto them then put it into my mouth. This plate was too small. The dish tasted very delicious especially the pickled daikon and carrot.
Cơm bò xào lúc lắc Stir-fried cube beef in house special wine sauce on rice. Tender, succulent beef with smooth texture literally melts in your mouth. That sauce was well balanced and compliments the meat.
Young Sage: The cube size was too small to me, but I really enjoyed the taste. Juicy!
Mì xào giòn (hoặc mềm) thập cẩm Pan fried egg crispy noodle with seafood and beef combination. The egg noddle was starting to get soggy. Seafood and beef was overcooked to little hard bricks. The sauce was very tasty.
Young Sage: I thought it was overcooked. I also thought there was too much sauce, and it made the noodles soggy fast.
Phở áp chảo hải sản Flat rice noodle with seafood combination. The fried egg was superimposed on top of the noodle to form a pan cake like circle then cut into triangles. This was topped with a wonderful well balanced sauce and seafood.
Young Sage: The triangle pieces of noodles became hard after a few minutes. But I liked the sauce and the sunshine idea. Very creative.
Hủ tiếu Nam Vang thập cẩm Special combo with shrimp, pork (or chicken) and crab meat. The distinct chicken broth filled my nostrils with aroma. Excellently poached thin slivers of proteins. Fresh herds round out the bowl of heaven.
Young Sage: I liked the broth very much. I also liked the yellow egged noodles.
Canh chua cá hoặc tôm Vietnamese sour soup with Fish or Shrimp. I am always thankful when a dish tantalizes my palate. From the first sniff, sip, and taste, this was a special treat. The large green vegetable in the middle is a Bac Ha or Doc Mung (Giant Upright Elephant Ears or Elephant Ears or Alocasia Odora) This sponge like substance was a perfect vehicle to transport a slightly sour broth. Hidden but standing on it’s own was Rau Om (Rice Paddy Herbs). This herb gave a little tartness that sparked the entire dish. Well rounded and very flavorful.
Young Sage: It was too sour for me, but it looked real good with many colors of tomatoes, elephant ears, pineapple and bean sprouts. I will try this again next time with the fish.
Cá kho tộ Vietnamese braised fish in clay pot. This cast iron pot was a sufficient vessel for the tender salty fish. With rice, this sauce could be eaten by itself.
Young Sage: I really liked this dish. It was not clay pot though. Pouring this sauce over rice, I can eat it by itself for dinner. It smells good.
Vietnamese Coffee Big and bold.
Young Sage: I did not taste this. My dad told me that it was too strong for me, but it looked nice.
Jelly Drink Finely shaved ice with jelly sticks and coconut milk. Good combination. Great way to end a meal.
Young Sage:I think it is Che 3 Mau, or Tri-Color Sweet. I got one in a to-go cup with too much ice. I used a straw to drink all the juice and did not know that I was supposed to stir it up first. Other than that, I liked this dessert. Oh, some of the beans were not soft.
This dining experience can be a great adventure. There is so much about ethnic Vietnamese cuisine that to present it all in one restaurant may be very challenging even for the most seasoned professionals. However, the new owners taking care of this space is trying to present their cuisine in the best way possible. It would be very exciting to watch this restaurant grow into it’s own.