If you were around in the late 80s and is an action movie junkie, then you would have seen a host of D-rated actors in a daring effort to see who can spill more blood and fire faster in movies depicting the Vietnam War. I was captivated by every sight of people hovering over a bowl of steaming rice or liquid. I always wondered what were they slurping. Lucky for me as the years went by I discovered there are actual restaurants that served these same foods.
Most major US cities has some sort of Chinatown or a splattering of Asian eateries. If you live in Orlando, we are lucky to have the delectable Mills 50 area which has seen a surge of restaurant growth. Amongst the new, there are still places that are tucked into tiny blocks and through passageways. I am yet to discover all of these little gems. But one such place with a sign that says “Vietnam Cuisine” recently caught my attention.
The block that sits south along Colonial Dr. between Mills Ave. and Shine Ave. is especially interesting to me. Along Colonial Dr. there are unassuming storefronts with entrances. If you were to go one block south and make a turn onto Hillcrest St. there are parking spaces that lead to several passageways. Most of these passageways eventually lead back onto Colonial Dr. But along these passageways are shops, hair dressing salons, tax accountants, cafes and restaurants.
Look for the sign that says “Vietnam Cuisine” hanging over a door. Walk in, turn left, follow this passageway to the end. Pull open the door, there are a couple of tables there, walk further and to the left you are in the actual dining room with a counter. If you entered from Colonial Dr. you would be standing in the dining room.
I keep referring to this place as “Vietnam Cuisine” but the name is actually Da Lan Vietnamese Cuisine as seen on the menu. Take a pick what you want to call it. I took my Sages along and they attested to the food’s authenticity. For the record, the elder Sage and a younger Sage were born in Vietnam and knows the cuisine very well. The younger Sage is first generation Vietnamese born in the US and is very familiar with the flavors. It is very interesting to hear their comparisons.
The space itself is very small. There is a charming table for two that sits in front along Colonial Dr. The other four top tables can be assembled for small groups. There are also tables that can be set up along the back passageway. The open kitchen window allows a view into the operation’s heart. To one wall is a reflective mirror that makes the small space appear larger and less clusterphobic.
Name: Spicy Hue Beef Noodle Soup (Bun Bo Hue)
Description: One of the best Vietnamese noodle soups with origin from the Central town Hue. Spicy as most Hue dishes are, the dish has several variances. Da Lan serves the Southern version which adds blood custard, pork feet, and beef tripe.
Sage Opinion 1.0: My wife’s favorites.
Sage Opinion 2.0: You get to add a touch of that ‘shrimp paste’ to the broth.
Sage Opinion 3.0: It’s spicy for me!
TF: This dish was a burst of spicy goodness. The texture of blood custard is soft and silky, pork feet has it’s richness of chewy skin and tissues, while beef tripe has a chewy soft mouth feel.
Description: These herbs accompany the Beef Noodle Soup. One unique ingredient is the shredded banana flower.
TF: Fresh and crisp
Name: Crab Spring Rolls (Cha Gio Cua Be)
Description: Crispy Vietnamese Spring rolls with crabmeat
Sage Opinion 1.0: I wish dinners can see what is inside.
Sage Opinion 2.0: It’s really crispy.
Sage Opinion 3.0: It’s special with crabmeat because we usually see spring rolls with chicken or pork only.
TF: Crisp on the outside, full of crab texture on the inside.
Name: Fish Cake and Dill (Cha Ca Thang Long)
Description: Fish cake and fillet served with dills and shrimp paste. This is one of a must-try specialties of Northern Vietnamese cuisine.
Sage Opinion 1.0: I am afraid the shrimp paste has a strong aroma.
Sage Opinion 2.0: Maybe that makes this dish special.
Sage Opinion 3.0: Yum! I love this shrimp paste though its smell might trick you.
TF: This is a spectacle on the eyes and nose as it comes out on a sizzling skillet. The cake is tender and spongy with semi firm texture.
Name: Shrimp Paste (Mam Tom)
Description: Compelling, pungent, and stinky are some of the terms used to describe this sauce used in Southeast Asia. Though made in a similar manner as fish sauce, shrimp paste is thick like toothpaste and purplish in color. For Western palates, it’s probably the hardest Asian fermented seafood product to accept. Shrimp paste is often blended into foods or dipping sauces. It earns the nickname as the Southeast Asian spicy umami ketchup.
TF: This paste reacts differently with all foods. Some it enhances, some it overpowers. It is high in the nose and can lead to feelings of distaste for the faint of heart. Although, if braved, it is a very unique experience. Sage 3.0 added this to everything!
Name: Vietnamese Iced Coffee with Milk (Ca Phe Da)/ Iced Milk with Coffee (Bac Xiu Da)
Description: One is made with thick coffee and condense milk; the other is milk with a few drops of coffee.
Sage Opinion 1.0: Bac Xiu is for those who do not like coffee much, but want a bit of it for flavor.
Sage Opinion 2.0: Not for me!
Sage Opinion 3.0: This is an adult beverage, I think.
TF: Strong, earthy, nutty, musky flavors.
Name: Salted Lemonade (Chanh Muoi)
TF: Very salty and refreshing
Name: Sticky Rice Balls (Che Troi Nuoc)
Description: Sticky rice balls with hearty mung bean filling in gingered syrup.
Sage Opinion 1.0: Sometimes I see this served with a dash of sesame seeds.
Sage Opinion 2.0: Wonder if the small balls have mung bean filling inside.
Sage Opinion 3.0: I like this without the coconut milk.
TF: Mushy outer shell encase rich nutty mung bean paste. When mixed with syrup makes and amazing treat.
Name: Rolled Crepes (Banh Cuon)
Description: Vietnamese Rice Crepes with Minced Pork, Pork Terrine and Woodear Mushrooms
Sage Opinion 1.0: This is a ordinary street breakfast in Vietnam. Usually, it is freshly made right in front of the diners. Simply served with the Vietnamese fish sauce called ‘nuoc cham’.
Sage Opinion 2.0: This place has the best
Sage Opinion 3.0: I noticed that the beansprouts are poached for this dish.
TF: Each component of this dish stand on it’s own. Together they are a melody of earthy, woodsy, crispy, gooey flavors and textures that melt well together.
Name: Broken Rice Platter (Com Tam)
Description: It is usually served with grilled pork (either ribs or shredded) plus the Vietnamese dish “bì”(thinly shredded pork mixed with cooked and thinly shredded pork skin) over broken rice. The rice and meat are served with various greens and pickled vegetables, along with a prawn paste cake, steamed or fried egg, and grilled prawns. The dish sometimes comes with egg meatloaf.
Sage Opinion 1.0: The portion at da Lan is huge.
Sage Opinion 2.0: No way that I can finish this platter by myself.
Sage Opinion 3.0: The crispy bean curd skin is delicious.
TF: The pork in this platter was well marinated with sweet and slightly salted flavor, well cooked to tender perfection.
Name: Ox Tail Noodle Soup (Pho Duoi Bo)
Description: Regular Pho noodle soup with ox-tail
Sage Opinion 1.0: I suspect that the broth has a great deal of MSG, but the presentation looks good.
Sage Opinion 2.0: The picture on the menu is different from what is served.
Sage Opinion 3.0: I am not a fan of Pho; I stick with my pan-fried noodles.
TF: I’ll agree with the MSG overload, but the oxtail itself was well cooked and cold be taken apart in one very tender bite.
Name: Pan-fried Noodles with Seafood (Pho Ap Chao hai San)
Description: Pan-fried yellow egg noodles with seafood.
Sage Opinion 1.0: Don’t care too much.
Sage Opinion 2.0: It seems like they use the instant noodles for the dish.
Sage Opinion 3.0: I like the sauce, but I do not like the noodles much.
TF: Seafood was perfectly cooked, noodles and sauce had a nice sweet smokey wok flavor.
Here is a little gem tucked away from the mainstream and welcoming to all. Every though this place may seem very ethnic, the staff makes an extra effort to accommodate. They take the time to make eye contact, acknowledge and are very efficient. How wonderful that we don’t have to leave Orlando to fully experience another food culture.
More images on my Flickr.