Cam Ranh Bay (Eden Prairie, MN)
By Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
Vietnamese cuisine only resembles Chinese cuisine on the surface. It commonly has much less sauce than Chinese dishes. Vietnamese is more like Thai, with lots of aromatic ingredients like cilantro, mint, and basil. And chilis, of course. And because the French occupied the country, interesting French influences crept into the cooking. Vietnamese cuisine is light and fresh; perfect for a hot summer day.
The Twin Cities are home to many, many good Vietnamese restaurants. You'll find our best along University Avenue or East Street, but Cam Ranh Bay in Eden Prairie is worth a stop.
Order the spring rolls, a typical and delightful appetizer. Rice noodles, fresh herbs, and meats are wrapped in rice paper and served cold--not fried--together with a peanut dipping sauce. Cam Rahn Bay sells them with barbecued pork and shrimp, shrimp alone, chicken, tofu, mock duck, and vegetable. Avoid the pork; it was too tough.
For a large group, the rice pancake makes another terrific appetizer. It's called banh xeo, and is more often translated as Vietnamese crepes. It's a typical Vietnamese breakfast or lunch. Think of a giant thin rice flour and egg pancake, turned yellow by the addition of turmeric. Shrimp, pork, and onions are sautéed and then folded into a huge omelet. Served alongside are great handsful of cilantro and mint, and a half head of lettuce. Pull off a lettuce cup, add to it some leaves of cilantro and mint, and then carve off some of the rice cake, and make yourself a wrap sandwich. Spoon on some fish sauce. This is the slightly salty, slightly sweet thin sauce served with your rice pancake. It's not strongly flavored, and doesn't taste like fish. Vietnamese eat it for breakfast or lunch.
Another Vietnamese dish is goi tom thit: "Special Salad" on the menu. It's a marinated salad of cucumber, celery, and onion, served with cold barbecue pork slices and jumbo shrimp and topped with peanuts, mint, and cilantro. Here again, fish sauce poured on top gives the salad its character. It's crisp, light, fresh, delicious: the perfect summer salad.
Pho, beef noodle soup, is a Vietnamese staple. This anise-scented beef broth, served over various meats and rice noodles, highlights the French culinary influence. The depth and richness of the beef broth comes from roasting the bones from which it is made, a classic French technique. You'll get basil and mung bean sprouts to add to your soup, as well as hot sauce and plum sauce to add to taste. Ask for some lime to squeeze in, or maybe a few chilis. Pho is an individual concoction.
They serve a rotating list of specials. We enjoyed the Pad Thai Lo Mein, with its big pieces of good fresh chicken and sprinkle of sesame seeds. Perhaps less successful was the Shredded Pork Over Broken Rice on the Favorites menu page. Not even fish sauce could save this odd combination of fried eggs, pieces of carrot, and shredded pork on rice.
They offer several acceptable versions of standard Chinese fare in addition to these Vietnamese specialties.
Atmosphere: No-frills family-run
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