Review: Brodard in Orange County is famous for pork spring rolls — but don’t skip the pastries
In late 2017, the family behind Brodard Restaurant, a mainstay of Orange County’s Little Saigon since the 1990s, moved its flagship restaurant from Garden Grove to a bigger space in a Fountain Valley shopping center.
The new Brodard is a polished, light-filled dining room with vaulted ceilings and dark wood trim, demurely ornamented with muted still-life panels and a handful of oversize flower arrangements. The 8,000-square-foot space includes a bakery and a takeout counter off the lobby entrance; a full bar in the center of the dining room; and enough tables to accommodate several family reunions.
For the record:
9:02 AM, Oct. 18, 2019A previous version of this story gave the incorrect spelling of Chau Haller’s name.
If you arrive any later than 5 p.m. on a Saturday night, you will put your name on a waitlist and sit in the lobby among dozens of families waiting to be seated. Teenagers in hoodies slouch over their phones; young kids use the sidewalk in front of the restaurant as a makeshift playground. Brodard is a happy, noisy place.
Brodard’s owners are Diane Dang and her daughters, Lisa Vo and Chau Haller, who also run the slightly fancier Brodard Chateau in Garden Grove and the Bamboo Bistro in Corona del Mar. The trio is credited with popularizing nem nuong cuon — grilled pork spring rolls — in Southern California. Nem nuong — grilled slabs of uncased pork sausage seasoned with sugar and fish sauce — is traditionally served by itself with various accouterments (veggies, thickets of herbs, lettuce or rice paper wrappers), a DIY dish necessitating assembly. In 1997, the Dangs consolidated the elements into a chewy, quick, preassembled roll. The innovation was so popular, Vo tells me, she needed to use an assembly-line model to keep up with demand.
At the new Brodard, nem nuong cuon is still the marquee dish. Thickly built with ruddy pork, fresh herbs and spears of green onions, the first bite is sharp with mint and animal salt. On the second bite you register a crisp mantle of fried wonton strips, shatteringly thin and extra-crunchy, tucked into the soft swirl of fillings.
The rolls are served with an amber-colored dipping sauce that’s sweet yet also unusually meaty. The sauce has developed a small but ardent cult following; recipe blogs are replete with copycat versions.
The popularity of the nem nuong cuon has spawned a whole menu of specialty rolls, some filled with unctuous slabs of duck, others with rib-eye or eggplant tempura. The best of the newfangled rolls features coconut shrimp encrusted in panko, deep-fried until golden, sweet and crisp, with summer-bright slices of fresh avocado tucked in.
Beyond rolls, Brodard’s menu of noodles, soups and salads stretches from one end of Vietnam to the other, offering solid, if sometimes tame, interpretations of dishes like Hanoi-style pork noodles in a thick garlic sauce; Mì Quảng, flat rice noodles heaped with chewy pork spareribs and shrimp; and a beautiful beef noodle soup charged with robust, savory flavor.
The deluxe broken rice plate is a gleeful jumble of shredded pork, shrimp cakes and a spongy egg meatloaf laced with fish sauce. Jackfruit salad is a necessary side dish, a pungent, chewy conflagration of chiles, lime and fish sauce.
You should not miss the photogenic banh khot, gold-brown mini rice cups, each holding a single springy shrimp. You wrap the shrimp cup in crisp lettuce and dunk it into sweet-garlicky sauce. It is bracing and delicious.
Steamy porridge bowls are excellent, especially the sole porridge called cháo cá. It’s one of the most purely comforting dishes I’ve come across recently: subtly and sweetly fishy; intensely buttery; and thick with the restorative perfume of fresh ginger and scallions.
And speaking of comfort, the lobby bakery beckons as you exit: Row upon colorful row of house-made macarons, miraculously light, flavored with things like pistachio, durian, Earl Grey tea, coconut, chocolate, lychee and strawberry. A refrigerated bakery case holds varicolored fruit jellies; homemade matcha flan; sponge cakes; and many types of the sweet and refreshing Vietnamese desserts called chè.
There are also classic French desserts baked by Vo, a Cordon Bleu graduate with a perfectionist’s streak, especially in the matter of canelés and almond tarts. In a more just world, Brodard would be as well-known for Vo’s pastries as it is for pork spring rolls.
Her apple tart is a discreet masterwork: a layer of sliced apples baked on top of a dainty, flaky crust, lighter than any I’ve tried in the past year. It comes with a free side of advice: “Please do not microwave this,” Vo instructs gravely as she wraps a customer’s tart in crinkly wax paper. “Please use a toaster oven and have it for breakfast — with ice cream.”
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