The Gossiping Gourmet: Best of Cal meets best of Asia

We often lament the passing of our favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Xanh Bistro, once located in a strip mall off Brookhurst, but we recently returned to the spot and discovered that it had been replaced by a wonderful new eatery called Ennar Calasian Grill.

This delightful little restaurant features Japanese izakaya-style food with an extensive menu of small plates, a few Vietnamese offerings and items like sweet potato fries and lamb chops (thus, Calasian).

The décor is minimal but attractive, with long blonde wooden banquettes running along both walls, fronted by picnic-type tables and benches. There is an L-shaped bar for dining as well.

Our young, helpful and very sweet waitress guided us to some menu favorites, and each was a palate-pleasing delight. She highly recommended the squid salad to begin our meal. This was a large, entree-sized salad, the only dish on the menu that wasn't a small plate.

After one bite, we were hooked. We found it hard to stop eating the thin, tender rounds of squid scattered throughout the mixture of greens, red and yellow cabbage, thinly sliced apples, sesame seeds and tiny enoki mushrooms. The marvelous spicy/sweet citrusy dressing brought it all together. Our waitress said the dressing contained about 12 ingredients and was made fresh every day.

Varied textures came from the soft squid, crispy green apples, sesame seeds and crunchy cabbage. We didn't want to finish because we had many other dishes coming, but we left it on the table and found ourselves drifting back to it throughout the rest of the meal.

The restaurant has the typical grill menu with items that fall under these categories: chicken, beef, pork, pork belly wrapped, vegetables, rice balls or assorted.

Baby lamb chops are pictured on one of the colorful signs in the window and they looked very tempting, so we got two of them. They were better than good. The juicy meat had a light char from the coal-fired grill and was buzzed with a sweet and spicy mustard dipping sauce on the side.

Wanting some vegetables, we tried the okra and the shishito peppers. The roasted peppers were quite mild, with just a hint of heat, nothing special. However, the charred okra was crunchy and a little sweet from a drizzle of hoisin sauce, with a subtle aftertaste of spice.

To sample the seafood, we ordered paprika-garlic sauteed shrimp. The crustaceans came in their shells, cloaked in paprika and finely chopped garlic. They were swimming in a pool of olive oil seasoned with the paprika and garlic from the shells. Very good crusty bread came alongside for mopping up the juices. It was messy but delicious.

I find it hard to resist anything on a menu that includes pork belly. Here it is sliced very thin and wrapped around little quail eggs (three to an order). They come with a deeply nuanced citrus jelly-chili sauce. The dish was sweet, sour and spicy all at once.

From the chicken category, which includes every part of the chicken including cartilage, gizzards, heart, liver, soft bone, tail, thigh, skin and wings, we went for the wings. These were from some very big birds! Large, crispy, grilled, lacquered wings were skewered, one to a stick. There was relatively little meat, but it was all about the crunchy skin.

We had a couple of small clay bottles of the warm house saki (shirakabegurato) to accompany the food, and it was quite good.

For dessert, we opted for the warm gooey chocolate chip cookie a la mode and chose green tea ice cream for the "mode" part. The cookie was too sweet for us, and the ice cream lacked the tea flavor that makes it special. Other offerings include panna cotta, banana brulee and banana tempura. Next time, we will skip dessert and have another lamb chop.

We miss Xanh Bistro, but we are delighted to have in its place this excellent new spot for Calasian cuisine.

TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at m_markowitz@cox.net.

Ennar Calasian Grill

Where: 16161 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley (across from the Saigon Performing Arts Center)

When: 4 to 10 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday (closed Tuesday)

Prices:

Grill items: $2 to $5

Small plates: $3 to $12

Desserts: $3.50 to $8

Alcohol:

Saki: $6.50 to $64

Soju: $3.50 to $13

Beer $3 to $7

Information: (714) 775-5700 or http://www.ennarcg.com

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