Thursday, July 13, 2006
Tofu! Tofu! Tofu! - Vinh Loi Tofu!
Vinh Loi Tofu
18625 Sherman Way, No. 101,
Open 7 am - 7 pm
Google Local Info
If you're like me, you're an equal-opportunity diner. Just because you love few things in the world more than a perfectly grilled 14-ounce New York strip doesn't mean you can't appreciate the delights of a nice, fresh salad, a good veggie stir-fry, or even... tofu.
Some otherwise reasonable people I know won't go there. Any food that has to sit in water in your fridge must be for pussies, they figure. And the average Buddha's Delight at your local Chinese greasery isn't likely to persuade them.
Vinh Loi Tofu just might.
I can't claim to have found the place, as Linda Burum's piece in the Los Angeles Times sent me slavering there a couple of weeks ago. But holy bean curd, this place is good.
It's yet another outpost of cutting edge cuisine in a dodgy strip mall; this one in the deepest depths of Reseda. Ambience: one counter, five pictures of food on the wall, one cooler with drinks and other specialty items, one handful of formica tables.
It's my first time there, and Kevin Tran, owner, proprietor, and cashier can tell. As I and my lunch date study the menu, he says, "First of all, don't order off the menu. Get what I tell you."
First of all, it's Vietnamese food, which means it's good to begin with. Vietnamese uses all of my favorite ingredients: tender, sliced, savory bits swimming in flavorful broths among delicate noodles, seasoned with lemon grass, chiles, and cilantro, juiced up with a squeeze of lime.
But what Kevin Tran does with the savory bits is truly amazing.
Anchoring all of the spicy salads, stinging hot soups, and fresh spring rolls -- where you're used to beef, duck, pork or shrimp -- is humble tofu. Tofu that, in a dazzling array of preparations, manages to to taste, feel, and sometimes even look like the beef, duck, pork or shrimp of the original.
The beef- and pork-style tofus in the spicy noodle soup are as different from each other as cow and pig: the beef, thin-sliced and slightly chewy, the pork tender and succulently chunky. And they're both as different from the pillowy hunks of what-you-know-as-tofu in the same soup as different can be.
The "seafood" with wide, flat noodles (first photo, above) arrives topped with what looks for all the world like a perfectly breaded, grilled, sliced calamari steak. It tastes a little more like shrimp than calamari, but there's no actual seafood involved. When my vegetarian dining partner, entirely skeptical, asks Kevin if all this is really vegetarian, he replies no, it's vegan!
The slices of browned stuff in the spring rolls? Tofu.
The absurdly duck-like stuff in the duck salad? Vegan.
Only the fried tofu with dipping sauce looks and feels familiar. Yet with its perfectly crispy, chile-flaked crust, it's the best version of fried tofu I've ever had, with the possible exception of the world-famous Fatty's in Singapore.
And it all comes from Kevin's very own tofu factory in the back of the restaurant. It's fresh. It's one-of-a-kind. I guarantee you, you CAN'T get these dishes, like this, anywhere else, even if you're food crazy like me and make the requisite pilgrimages to far-flung parts of the county for exotic Asian food. And it's right there in freakin' Reseda!
With apologies to Soul Coughing: We are all going to Reseda, someday, to die... for the tofu.
You'll have to excuse the lack of detail here. I rarely post about a place after visiting just once, especially when I'm not even allowed to look at the menu, but I had to get this up, to make sure people keep going there, to make sure Kevin's place is a huge success. You gotta go. And I gotta go back.
When are we going?