Adventures in Dining

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Hawkers Asian Street Fare, May 29, 2011 May 29, 2011

Filed under: Little Saigon — hpandaw @ 10:45 pm

We’d read a review about this restaurant in Orlando Weekly, and being big tapas fans, we decided to make the long trek out to Mills Avenue.  Hawkers did not disappoint!  The interior reminded us strongly of Chipotle’s interior, with lots of corrugated iron.Our waitress was very friendly, making a beer suggestion to my husband (they offer 90 different beers by the bottle, mostly ranging in price from $4 to $7) and giving us ample time to look over the menu.  We decided to each select a dish to share, then each have one dish for ourselves, since I do not eat meat, and my husband had decided in advance to try the roast duck banh mi sliders.

Our first dish was the Asian fried green beans, lightly battered and tossed in five spice seasoning for $4.50.

This was delicious!  We ate them in about 30 seconds flat.  The beans were a bit oily, but in a good, street-food type of way, and the five spice seasoning lent an exotic flavor to the beans.

Next came the South Asia shrimp curry for $6.50.  

We really, really liked this dish.  The coconut milk was a nice touch, and the shrimp were large and very flavorful.  We ordered a side of white rice for $1 to eat the curry over, and I was somewhat challenged to eat this with chopsticks, but I managed.

In addition to the white rice, I had also ordered a piece of roti canai, thinking that I would sop up the shrimp curry with this. 

The roti was outstanding, buttery and flaky, and I could have eaten seven more of these!  The menu mentioned that it would be served with the “signature spicy curry dipping sauce,” so I was astounded to find that this dipping sauce had chunks of chicken in it!  I didn’t eat the chicken chunks, but, since I don’t eat meat, I would have asked them to hold the dipping sauce if I’d realized what it contained.  My only complaint about the restaurant is that I wish they had marked the menu to identify vegetarian dishes, which would have made it a lot easier to navigate.  Currently, the menu has symbols for spicy dishes and for “Hawkers Signature Dishes,” a symbol that I always find to be singularly useless.  Why tell me what your signature dish is?  What does that even mean, in practical terms?  Why not have a special section called “Hawkers Signature Dishes,” instead of “Hawkers Originals?”  The inclusion of both, without identifications that might have actually helped diners order, is a pet peeve of mine, not just on Hawkers’ menu, but on menus at other restaurants, as well.

My next dish was the $6 Hawkers fish tacos, one of the Hawkers Originals, and it was the weakest of all the dishes we tried. 

The five spice fish inside the tacos were woefully under-salted, and the shredded cabbage was dried up and didn’t seem to be fresh.

My husband’s next dish was also a Hawkers Original selection, the aforementioned Banh Mi sliders with roast duck for $6. 

He thought they were a touch heavy on the bread, but that was to be expected with a thick baguette. The duck was flavorful, though not very tender, and he liked the light mayonnaise dressing, without which he felt the duck would have been a bit dry.  The cucumbers in this dish were reportedly “great,” and complemented the duck nicely.  The bread was not chewy, and tasted fresh.

The total for roti, curry, green beans, tacos, rice, banh mi sliders, a Coke, and a Southern Tier IPA was $36.22 after tax and before tip.  We left the restaurant STUFFED, and definitely felt that we could have ordered probably one fewer dish than we did, though we had wanted to try multiple items.

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Viet Garden July 15, 2007 July 15, 2007

Filed under: Little Saigon — hpandaw @ 7:32 pm

On our long, lonely trek to the Total Wine in the far Eastern reaches of Orlando, we stumbled upon an area known as “Little Saigon.” We had a Little Saigon in Charlotte, on Central Ave, and we have fond memories of the pho we encountered there. That being the case, we decided to give a restaurant out here a try.

Our first obstacle was that of parking. I don’t like to park on the street, if the street in question is State Road 50. It’s too busy, and I had nightmare visions of myself trying to pull out into traffic there, so I wanted a parking lot. When we found the Publix, we heaved a sigh of relief and said, “Publix will let us park.” Not so, my friends. Publix has gone so far as to hire a guard to sit in the parking lot, zealously guarding spots for Publix customers. We parked in their parking lot, then walked toward the Publix, but instead of going in, we went past it, crossed the street, and walked back without being spotted by the guard. Yes, it was probably cheating, but 1. the parking lot was only about 1/4 full, so we weren’t taking spots away from anyone else, and 2. we are good Publix customers – we shop there at least twice a week!

Having parked and made a roundabout, we encountered our first astonishing sight of the day: a man who had pulled down his pants and underwear, right on the corner of 50! I was surprised, to say the least. One expects things like that in New York, but thus far, we had not encountered anything like that in Orlando. Live and learn.

The first restaurant that we came to was called the Viet Garden, and, since it had several customers inside and a sign on the window saying “Vegetarian”, my husband decided that this was the place for us. We entered and were seated right away at a table by the window, so that we had a good view of a wandering kitten who strolled by. Our half of the restaurant was empty, except for the wait staff, so my husband took this opportunity to photograph the interior:

The menu here is fairly extensive and entrees seem to range from $6.95 for soups to $20 for an entire fish. Though the sign on the window had said “Vegetarian,” we quickly saw that most dishes contained pork, and the actual vegetarian selection was fairly limited: maybe 6 or 7 dishes out of a total of 60+ choices.

We began with vegetarian spring rolls for $2.95, which were quite good, though incredibly hot. We’ve had spring rolls that were lacking in flavor, but this was not the case here. The filling was flavorful, with the only real trouble being the heat (we could have waited for it to cool) and the long pieces of cabbage that made eating a bit messy. It was served with a very light, faintly sweet sauce for dipping.

My husband ordered a soup (not pho, which has a beef broth) with shrimp & crab claws. It was item number 34 on the menu, and cost $6.95. This dish was quite good. The broth was very flavorful, though the shrimp & crabs were lackluster: previously frozen & overcooked. The noodles were thin, with an almond-esque flavor, but the broth was the star. It was truly delicious, and was served with the standard sides of fresh basil, cilantro, bean sprouts, lemon, and peppers. Once he’d added these ingredients to the soup and had let them impart their flavors, the broth became even better. One slice of pepper was enough for him to heat the entire dish, and he actually pulled it out once it had steeped for a while.

My dish, the Pad See Ew, item number 9T on the menu for $7.50, was very disappointing.  The combination of the wide, flat rice noodles with the not-at-all-crisp tofu made the texture one big glop.  The flavor was lacking; it was faintly sweet, but not at all interesting, especially in comparison with my husband’s soup.  Worst of all, though, was the fact that I found a BUG lying in my noodles.  It looked like a large gnat or fruit fly that had landed in the dish while they were plating it, but it was enough to keep me from eating the rest of my entree.  I know that bugs happen, but I don’t like them happening in my food.  A roach would have been much worse, but I am just one of those people who stops eating when I find any kind of foreign object in my dish.  Oh, well.  I wasn’t enjoying this dish very much anyway, so it was no hardship to me to stop eating it.

In summary, we probably wouldn’t return here, just because we weren’t really wowed.  The crab and shrimp soup was quite good, but not enough to bring us back.  I am trying really hard not to hold the bug against them, since I’m pretty sure it just landed into the dish and wasn’t one of those crawly ones that lives in dirty kitchens.  I still wish that Orlando would take its cue from the rest of the civilized world and have restaurants post their sanitation scores!