Kristin Nguyen, executive chef-owner of Garlic & Chives in Garden Grove, serves lots of Vietnamese classics in her eatery, many of them adapted with her own unique twists.
Dishes such as pomelo salad up with pork belly, and spicy crab sautéed in tamarind sauce, are stables on her menu. There are also less expected offerings such as crunchy sea salt garlic (french) fries or chicken wings. All are perfect for shared-plate dining.
Nguyen makes some of the very best fresh spring rolls I’ve tasted, still salad-like, but hearty enough to feel like a meal.
She spikes them with strips of sautéed salmon belly.
Along with a luscious blend of herbs, vegetables and salmon, each spring roll includes a thin tube of rolled-up fried wonton skin, browned crisp and toothsome; it’s an addition that she said was inspired by the cuisine of central Vietnam.
On the side, a perky tamarind-based dipping sauce adds the perfect degree of acidity.
“I like to be unique with my dishes,” she explained when she joined me in my home kitchen to prepare spring rolls for the subject of a how-to video. “Even with the most traditional dishes, I want to make them fun and hip. A lot of restaurants cater to a specific generation. I want my restaurant to be where everyone, age-wise, wants to eat.”
Two restaurant favs: SUSHISAMBA in Las Vegas, an eatery that specializes in Japanese-Peruvian-Brazilian fusion is a treasure. She adores the tapa-style fare, including a delectable rib-eye steak with mushroom sauce topped with a poached egg, as well as the wonton-skin “taco shells” filled with seafood. Nobu at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, is another favorite. Their crab inspired her baked King crab dish that is halved and topped with a mayonnaise sauce and masago roe.
Drink of choice: Crown Royal and Coke. She also fancies red wine, finishing with a sweeter white muscato wine. She describes herself as a “fun girl.”
Secret talent: A passion for construction, design and décor drives much of her off-restaurant hours. She designed the restaurant, painted banquettes and refurbished the chairs.
Garlic & Chives’ Salmon Spring Rolls (Goi Cuon Ca Salmon)
Yield: 6 spring rolls
Marinade: 2 tablespoons oyster sauce, 1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil, 1 large garlic clove (chopped)
6 (1 1/2- to 2-ounces each) rectangles of skin-on salmon belly
About 6 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more if needed
6 wonton wrappers, rolled into tight cylinders
1/4 cup tamarind paste, see cook’s notes
2 tablespoons fish sauce, see cook’s notes
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon chili paste
1 garlic clove, minced
Thinly sliced fresh red Thai chili, to taste, see cook’s notes
6 (8 1/2-inch diameter) rice paper
6 leaves of green curly-edged lettuce, lower root half removed
Cilantro leaves and mint leaves
One 2 1/2-inch long skin-on section of cucumber, halved lengthwise, seed beds removed, cut into sticks (6 sticks needed)
2 1/2-inch long peeled carrot sticks (6 sticks needed)
Cook’s notes: Tamarind paste, fish sauce, rice paper, chili paste and fresh Thai chilies are sold at Asian markets. Her favorite brand of fish sauce is Phu Quoc.
1. In glass or ceramic bowl combine marinade ingredients; stir to combine. Add salmon and toss. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.
2. Heat oil on medium-high heat, adding more if needed; when hot, add wonton skin cylinders. Fry until golden brown, turning as needed. Drain on paper towels. Add salmon to hot oil; sauté until nicely browned, turning to caramelize both sides. Drain on paper towels.
3. Prepare dipping sauce: In bowl, combine tamarind paste, fish sauce, sugar, chili paste and garlic; stir to combine. Add chili slices and stir to combine. Set aside.
4. Spring rolls: In a medium bowl, add enough warm water to fill 3/4 full. Rotate rice paper in water until just barely pliable. Place on clean, dry surface. Working on the half closest to you, place lettuce leaf colorful-side down. Top with cilantro, mint, cucumber, carrot and fried wonton cylinder. Pull up lettuce just enough to tuck 1 fried salmon belly under it. Roll up until only a 1/4 portion of rice paper is free. Fold over sides and add 2 Asian chives so they will extend out the sides; finish rolling up, burrito style. Repeat with remaining ingredients to make 6 spring rolls. Serve with dipping sauce.
Garlic & Chives is at 9892 Westminster Blvd., #311, Garden Grove. 714-591-5196
Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s …
Here’s an easy-to-prepare weeknight dinner, stir-fried cabbage
with fresh Asian-style noodles.
You can use fresh lo mein egg noodles or fresh yakisoba noodles.
Before you start, put all ingredients next to the stove and bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil.
Stir-Fried Lo Mein with Cabbage, Mushrooms and Chicken
Yield: 4 servings
Salt for salting water
3/4 pound fresh (lo mein) egg noodles or yakisoba
1/4 cup canola oil, vegetable oil or peanut oil, divided use
3 1/2 cups shredded cabbage
4 ounces sliced white mushrooms or cremini mushrooms
2 green onions, cut on diagonal into 1 1/2-inch pieces, including dark green stalks
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cup cooked diced chicken
1 tablespoon Asian-style (roasted) sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
Dash of hot sauce, such as Sriracha or Frank’s
- In a pot of boiling salted water, cook noodles about one minute (they should be cooked al dente – tender but with a little bite), stirring to separate them; drain and place in large bowl. Toss with 1 tablespoon oil.
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large wok on high heat (until almost smoking). Add cabbage; cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Remove from wok.
- Add 1 tablespoon oil and when hot, add mushrooms, green onions and garlic; cook until browned and starting to soften, stirring frequently. Remove from wok.
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil. When hot, add noodles and chicken: cook, stirring, until heated through. Add cabbage, mushrooms and remaining ingredients. Toss and heat through. If desired, add a smidgen of hot sauce, such as sriracha or Frank’s RedHot. Taste; add salt if needed.