Great Vietnamese food any day but Tuesday
Where: 8557 Research Boulevard Ste 146, Austin, TX, 78758
Hours: Wed-Mon 10a-10p
As you gentle readers know from a previous installment, we were thwarted in our first attempt to infest the Sunflower when The Kiwi Doglover failed to mention that they were closed on Tuesday. I rectified the situation by rescheduling my weekly foray into civilization to land on a Wednesday and we descended on the Sunflower with a keen sense of expectation.
The first thing to strike us upon entry was the surprising number of diners already digging in with gusto at such an early hour. Here was a whole crowd of rush hour daters! We sent the server off immediately for a brace of fresh spring rolls (The Woman prefers fried, but I rule with an Iron Fist!) and then spent the next half-hour digesting the menu. Well, maybe not an actual half hour, but near enough. Sort of. You get the idea. There's lots on there and it all sounds good.
On the advice of The Kiwi Doglover, we ordered the Calamari Salad (strips of tender calamari tossed in a cabbage salad with fresh mint leaves, scallions and a tangy dressing) and the Seafood Clay Pot (lots of good stuff which I can't describe because it's not listed on the takeout menu, served in a clay pot). The Woman saw another table devouring something which our server said was the Crispy Tamarind Halibut (fried halibut cubes in a tempura batter, drizzled with tangy tamarind sauce, pictured here in a photo I stole from a newspaper review), but ruling with the Iron Fist in the Velvet Glove, I directed her attention to the (non-fried) Sunflower Special Steamed Sea Bass Fillet (California sea bass steamed with ginger, scallions and topped with a black bean soy sauce), reasoning that if it's their speciality, it's bound to be good. (And who can argue with such flawless reasoning? Don't answer that.)
By the way, did you know that Chilean sea bass isn't really sea bass? It's a very ugly fish discovered 30 years ago, with the unappealing name of the Patagonian toothfish, but nobody would buy it with that name, so they renamed it to improve their marketing. It worked so well that now the fish is in danger of extinction. Really.
The calamari salad was very nice. Tender chunks of squid. Num. The fish was very interesting, flaky white fish and the scallions were the perfect complement to the black bean soy sauce. The clay pot was good, too, with all kinds of things crawling around in side. Well, not really crawling. Floating would be more like it. We toddled out satisfied and walked it off at the Hong Kong Supermarket where The Woman picked up more tea infuser cups for her co-workers. (She really is too nice for this world.)
But one visit wasn't enough. We returned for another pair of fresh spring rolls and the Sunflower Salad (marinated jellyfish, pork and shrimp, tossed with lotus shoots, fresh mint, basil, scallions and cabbage in a tangy vinaigrette). This time I relented and we tried the Crispy Fried Halibut. The spring rolls were tasty and healthy, as usual. The salad was great, although after sampling a small portion The Woman generously suggested I eat the rest. The halibut was good, served on some very fresh, tender lettuce, with red onions and fresh mint and doused with a very sweet sauce. But I'm no fan of fried and there was too much sugar for my taste. The Woman suggested that next time she will ask for the sauce on the side. I suggested that it be on the other side of town at least.
This time we trolled through the neighboring Target to walk it off and discovered a table that almost fit what we've looked through dozens of stores, catalogs and websites to find. It's not exact, but on clearance it was as close as we're likely to find, so we snatched it up and I got the rest of my exercise getting it out of the car.
Which of course has nothing to do with the Sunflower. I have yet to try the kinds of dishes I usually associate with Vietnamese restaurants, like pho and lemongrass chicken. Guess we'll have to go back again. I won't be complaining.