Saturday, March 11, 2006

Indochine Jackfruit Salad in Atwater Village

Glendale Blvd in Atwater Village in the last couple of years has really developed into a trendy little stretch with some neat new restaurants and shops (like Importante Gifts, full of exotic crafts from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, where my husband had bought me a lovely colored soapstone heart for Valentine's Day). We had noticed the arrival of a restaurant called Indochine Vien that looked enticing, and today we checked it out. The regular menu offered the expected pho (rice noodle soups), rice dishes, and cha gio (egg rolls), and a less-often-found treat, banh xeo, a delicious crepe-like dish filled with bits of chicken and shrimp, and fresh Vietnamese greens (lettuce, mint, basil, and bean sprouts for crunch). But it was the two new special additions to the menu that really intrigued us. George tried the beef stew, chunks of beef simmered in a rich broth of tomatoes, lemongrass, and carrots, seasoned with chili and other spices (anice? clove?), and served over rice noodles. It came served in a big bowl, and a little dipping dish came on the side with some salt and pepper and a piece of lime, and another dish with the usual pho condiments (sprouts, mint, basil, lime, peppers). George said it was very good, and the spoonful of broth I tried was rich and flavorful. Me, I went for the jackfruit salad, since I'd never had jackfruit before (the untried item always having a strong magnetism for me). It was delicious. It seems the Vietnamese use jackfruit similar to how the Thai use green papaya in som tum salad, using the unripe fruit in small strips for texture as much as flavor. The strips were fibrous, and reminded me of tender bamboo shoots, or a bit like hearts of palm. There was a mellow palmy flavor in them, and there was also a sweet and tart flavor, a bit like pineapple (though it was hard to tell how much that came from the fruit itself or the light dressing, of lime-juice and sweet soy). Mixed in with this were strips of steamed chicken and pieces of steamed shrimp, shredded Vietnamese greens and carrots, caramelized shallots, lotus root, and crushed peanuts. With a nice cup of Vietnamese coffee, it was perfect. We'll definitely have to return to this place.

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