BANH CUON THANG LONG. YOU ONLY GO FOR THE FOOD…
by Andrew Chalk
I am working my way through the treasure trove of Asian and Mediterranean restaurants that occupies the northeast quadrant of DFW. There may be too many for any mere mortal to visit every one but, I assure you, the effort is worth it.
I just visited Banh Cuon Thang Long for dinner. It is a restaurant so authentically Vietnamese that it does not have a web site. In fact, it does not even have an air conditioner. You feel like you are in the fugg of Ho Chi Minh City (née Saigon) or some other equatorial Asian metropolis. Ignore the utilitarian decor, the self-adhesive floors, and focus on the food. It is really well prepared so bring your own wine (it is BYOB) and tuck in.
Family-run Banh Cuon Thang Long has occupied its current location for six years, but was in Saigon Mall, round the corner for several years before that.
We started with Bánh Cuốn ($3.95), which the menu translates as Fried Shrimp Cupcake. It is loosely a mung bean (translated on the menu, maybe incorrectly, as green bean) and rice powder batter with whole shrimp, cooked in a mold that gives it not just its shape but also, by focusing the heat, an attractive crispness at the edges. The flavor had an alluring sweetness (like fish and chip batter) but, instead of tartar sauce, it came with the ubiquitous Vietnamese fish sauce (nước chấm). A dish to return to.
Among main courses we enjoyed Bánh Cuốn Thit ($7.35), a long sheet of rice batter filled with extremely finely ground beef, slices of that bland Vietnamese ham that may be the only ingredient in this nation’s cuisine that it could safely jettison, steamed bean sprouts, and cucumber scattered with cold, deep-fried onions flakes. Once more, fish sauce on the side. While Vietnam has as much or more fusion as any other Asian cuisine, this was undoubtedly an indigenous dish. More surprising then that here was a composition that would have caused even colonialist Auguste Escoffier to explode with joy. The soft texture of the rice sheet was enhanced by the fine texture of the pork that wrenched flavor from the meat, all piqued with peppery spice. Adding the crisp onion flakes contrasted the rice sheet texture with the onion, and added a sweet note as well.
Our other main course was a crowd pleaser insofar as Vietnamese restaurants go -- Grilled Pork Vermicelli ($7.50). Rich grilling flavors in the meat, earthy juices and scallions made this a kind of Vietnamese comfort food.
Vietnamese cuisine is wine-friendly on account of the controllability of the heat. We had a young Cabernet Sauvignon with soft velvety tannins (2016 Bending Branch ‘Newsom Vineyards’ from the Texas High Plains) but high acid white wines like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, or Spanish Albariño would also work well.
As the examples above suggest, the prices at Banh Cuon Thang Long are very reasonable. The food is well made. The service is very personable. Reasons to go that should not be overcome by the fact that the decor will not see it make the cover of Architectural Digest.