Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Last March, while standing in line to check out the Dim Sum Truck, I struck up a conversation with Mong Skillman, Owner of the Mandoline Grill Food Truck. New on the scene, her truck had only been around for a few weeks at the time. We had a really nice conversation and in the midst of it, I asked if she'd be willing to do a tasting for my dining group. It took only a few emails and we were set a month later.
So on a gray Sunday, we met for what was going to be a delicious event. It started with Mong telling us a little bit about her inspiration. First and foremost, all the recipes for the food are based on family recipes, many of which are used at her Mom's Vietnamese restaurant in Honolulu, Hawaii. She also talked about how she got her start interning and training with Mama's Hot Tamales and the Dosa Truck and eventually serving her food at the patio of the Verdugo Bar. In regards to her menu, Mong also mentioned that she's very supportive of the vegan community and that shows in that she offers vegan bread and vegan "fish" sauce as options.
After Mong's intro, we went straight into our tasting which started with Chả Giò which were vegan crispy spring rolls served w/herbs, lettuce wrap and traditional Vietnamese dipping sauce. We were instructed to wrap the spring rolls and the herbs with the lettuce leaf and enjoy it that way. I've never done that before and I have to say that there's something about eating something fresh with something fried that was appealing. As for the spring roll itself, I really liked that it was crispy and not oily.
From the crispy spring rolls, we had the Chicken Curry with a Baguette. This was my first time having Vietnamese curry. I've never seen it at any Vietnamese restaurant I've been to, but maybe, I need to check more out. This curry was more on the sweet side with chunks of sweet potatoes and just a hint of heat. The addition of the bread to soak in that curry was genius. I liked this curry, but would have preferred it to be spicier than it was, but there were also members of my group who thought it was just perfect the way it was. Maybe, there should be both a non-spicy and a spicy version on the menu? I'd definitely go for the curry with the kick.
The next three items on our tasting menu were their banh mi sandwiches. Before I talk about each individual sandwich, I have to tell you that the bread was superb. The bread was golden, crusty and not soft and sweet, which I've experienced before. I thought the toppings were fresh and crunchy, although I would have liked them to be a bit more vinegary, but that's just my preference. First up was their Grilled Beef Banh Mi Sandwich, which was generous when it came to the beef itself. The beef had a good flavor to it. I couldn't quite identify the seasoning used, but I enjoyed every bite.
Our second banh mi was the Grilled Pork. The quality of the pork meat itself was good, but I thought it needed more flavor, perhaps a stronger marinade? It would also have tasted even better if there was more of a char to it. I had asked Mong about the pork and she had mentioned that the griddle available in the truck doesn't allow for much charring and that normally, she doubles the marinade for the pork to ensure that it absorbs the seasonings better. Perhaps, this just wasn't one of the better batches.
The third banh mi we tried was the vegan Lemongrass Tofu. I liked the fact that the tofu was fried, which gave it more of a firmness than if it was served otherwise. The tofu had a nice light refreshing taste to it with a hint of ginger. I actually liked it the best of the three banh mi sandwiches we tried, which says a lot, since I don't eat tofu on a regular basis.
To end our meal, we had the Grilled Pork Bún which is rice noodles served with traditional Vietnamese dipping sauce. I was actually getting full at this point, but I went ahead and poured the sauce in, mixed it up and took a couple of bites. If I hadn't had so much food already, I would have finished the whole thing. I enjoyed the fresh crunch of the vegetables and the chew of the noodles. This would be a perfect light lunch on its own.
Overall, I really enjoyed the Mandoline Grill's food. Everything tasted fresh and I appreciated how Mong cooked and/or prepared everything to order. The general consensus of all the food truck diners in attendance was that Mandoline Grill is a truck worth chasing and even better for me, they tend to stay in the Eastside part of town, which means I don't have to go too far if I want to get another Lemongrass Tofu Banh Mi.
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Check out Pleasure Palate's Two Upcoming Food Truck Tastings Below:
04/25 - Southern BBQ Dinner with Qzilla BBQ Truck
05/02 - Dim Sum Tasting with Dim Sum Truck