July 25, 2007

Sandwich Planet [Westminster]

With the upscale Vietnamese remodels popping up all over town, I would have never thought to go looking for elegant Vietnamese in an unassuming sandwich shop, which used to house a Billy Boy’s Burgers.

No one in their right mind would drive all the way out here for a sandwich when there are countless, cheaper options in the heart of Little Saigon. But thanks to an advertisement on the Vietnamese radio, we learned that they offered a small menu of lunch and dinner specialties.

Intrigued, we came with two objectives: (1) Xoi Ga Ro Ti, $6 and (2) Com Chay Ca Salmon, $7.25.

Xoi refers to glutinous rice, which is usually sweetened with coconut milk and found most commonly in Vietnamese desserts. The consistency of xoi is closer to sticky rice than it is to risotto and while it can come in a rainbow of colors, today’s was a muted brown. Sandwich Planet’s savory xoi came with fried shallots and featured only a touch of sweetness to brighten the fragrant peppercorns encrusting the Ga Ro Ti (rotisserie chicken). The thigh was moist with the seasonings steeping straight down to the bone.

I have been on the prowl for a moderately priced lunch portion of fish for some time now and finally found success with Sandwich Planet’s Com Chay Ca Salmon. At $7.25, you get a spice-rubbed (salt, pepper, garlic) filet of salmon whose crisp char only pales in comparison to the pandan-leaf crispy rice it sits atop.

Com Chay Ca Salmon

The crispy rice is made with short-grain granules that crumble apart like couscous and the whole dish is accompanied by a slightly thickened and spicy fish sauce. The sauce gives the dish moisture, while the flavors of the dish are simple and fresh. It’s not often that you’ll find something this cheap, healthy, AND delicious.

Oddly enough, the most expensive dishes are the dinner soups, which top out at $14. There are five items offered at dinner each night, though there is a different menu for each night of the week. Check what’s cooking here

Apparently they were out of the regular sauce that came with the salmon (my mom’s been raving about it for days), so the owner came over and offered us a free dessert as a consolation. Everyone kept asking us how things tasted and the staff was polite and welcoming. That level of service is rather unheard of for a Vietnamese restaurant and especially paradoxical for a humble sandwich shop.

The shop is owned by Quynh Huong, a local Vietnamese radio anchor and singer, who is also sister to Paris By Night celebrity Y Lan. But fame aside, Planet Sandwich is worthy of the buzz in and of itself.

Updated July 27, 2007

So good I had to come back twice in the same week! I can now vouch with certainty that the salmon and service are consistently excellent. They remembered our disappointment with the sauce last time and made it up by bringing us an extra filet of salmon for our dish.

We spotted some incredibly fresh-looking spring rolls and learned that they tasted even better than they looked. The shrimp were incredibly large and sweet and at a perfect ratio with the rest of the fillings. The bo bia also looked pretty appetizing.

Ca Ri Ga (chicken curry) did not disappoint with a mild, brothy coconut curry. Vietnamese curry tends to be less pungent and spicy than its Thai and Indian versions and usually eaten with bread, not rice. There was plenty of chicken to go around and a few potatoes thrown in for good measure.

It's rare that you'll find a menu at a Vietnamese restaurant that doesn't read like a novel. And at Sandwich Planet, having limited options has proven to be a good thing.

Sandwich Planet
8432 Westminster Ave
Westminster, CA 92683
(714) 891-5797

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