Terry Tran, manager of the new Tran Noodle Restaurant in Watsonville, serves up freshly made Vietnamese spring rolls Thursday.
After a lifetime of honing his cooking skills and learning the traditional dishes of his native Vietnam, Andy Tran has opened a Vietnamese restaurant in Watsonville, the only one of its kind in south Santa Cruz County.
Tran Noodle Restaurant, sandwiched between Togo’s and Round Table Pizza restaurants in the Crossroads shopping center, opened Dec. 18. There, Tran said he prepares the dishes with an emphasis on fresh, healthy ingredients, most of which are purchased locally.
“We want to support the local economy,” he said. “I like to eat healthy and that’s what I want to give my customers.”
The decor is simple but comfortable, but it’s the quality of the service that is immediately evident upon entering. Friendly and prompt, the staff checks up on diners often. Better still, the simple style of Vietnamese cooking allows the dishes to come quickly.
“I think the food was fabulous,” said Chrissy Varni, who was eating in the restaurant Thursday afternoon. “We had the pot stickers, sautéed beef cubes and the combination fried rice that had shrimp, chicken and beef. It was really good and the prices are reasonable. I’ll definitely come back and I’ll recommend this place to my friends.”
Varni’s friend Shari Mano echoed those sentiments and added, “they even showed us how to eat the noodles.”
Tran stressed that his dishes have no MSG and said the sweet, salty and savory flavors inherent in Vietnamese cooking come from natural sources and are drawn out by slow simmering that can take as long as 14 hours.
With the belief that fresh food tastes better, Tran makes the teriyaki, peanut and fish sauces himself, rather than buying ready-made containers.
Tran, 38, was born in a village in a rural part of southern Vietnam and moved to San Jose when he was 10. He learned to prepare the traditional dishes of his homeland under the tutelage of his mother, acquiring years of culinary wisdom and spawning a lifelong love of cooking that eventually led him to culinary school. After graduating from the Professional Culinary Institute in Campbell, Tran worked in an Italian restaurant and a “fusion” Vietnamese restaurant.
Most recently, he managed the Panda Express in Watsonville, which he said gave him experience with a new style of cooking.
“I want to know all of the cuisines so I can bring something new to Watsonville,” he said.
Before they opened the restaurant, Andy and his cousin Terry Tran, who manages the restaurant, made sure Watsonville didn’t already have a Vietnamese restaurant. They then informally polled residents in businesses around the city about their views of Watsonville’s culinary landscape. From the responses they received, it became obvious that Pajaro Valley residents wanted something different.
Robert Stanton, who works near the restaurant, said he was refreshed to find a new choice of food in Watsonville.
“I keep coming back here,” he said. “My boss eats here. Today I tried the grilled salmon teriyaki. It was really good. You get kind of sick of eating the same food around town so this is a nice break.”
Vietnamese cuisine has been influenced by that of China and France, as over its history those countries established and dismantled colonies there. The richness of the cuisine was helped along by having evolved in a tropical environment rich with an abundance of fruits and vegetables, most of which are available year-round.
Rice and noodles play a key role in the dishes, and in general meat is generally treated as a condiment, rather than a main course. That said, the servings at Tran Noodle Restaurant are generous, though not overly filling.
In nearly all Vietnamese restaurants, Tran Noodle Restaurant included, customers receive a condiment tray loaded with basil, bean sprouts and other fresh vegetables, along with hot sauce, which can be added to the dishes according to the diners’ tastes.
Tran Noodle Restaurant is located in the Crossroads shopping center at 1983 Main St. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. Sunday.
For the complete article see the 01-15-2011 issue.
Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 01-15-2011 paper.
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