By Heather Irwin
Editor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. We invite you to come along with our writers as they--informed, intelligent eaters like yourselves--have a simple meal at an area restaurant, just like you do. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience.
Word went out around the office Wednesday, right around lunch time. "Anyone want trucklin?" Well, Wednesday is my brown-bag day. I loathe it more than any other day, gutting down a soggy sandwich or frozen entrée dragged from home. But my budget is tight, so I declined to put in my order for, well, whatever trucklin might be, feeling rather smug in my penny-pinching ways.
A half an hour later, as fragrant takeout bags made their way into our office kitchen, I cursed my decision. Damn! Lovely noodles! Damn! Spicy beef! Sweet sprigs of basil, earthy bean sprouts and pungent lime hung heavily throughout the office. As did my heart. Poor, hungry me.
Truc Linh, I learned all too late, is the new favorite takeout Vietnamese of my food-wise compatriots. Steaming styrofoam boxes filled with noodles, beef and pho, along with neat little purses of fresh veggie accoutrements and sweet and spicy sauces are the staples of the family-owned restaurant neatly situated on the Windsor town square.
Noon couldn't come soon enough the following day. With steely determination, I drove down to Truc Linh where it is entirely possible to eat in as well as take out. Ah, sweet Vietnamese delight! The restaurant itself is simply outfitted, somewhat upscale from the usual noodle joint, but certainly not a place where slurping noodles and drinking a Coke right from the can would be frowned upon. On warm days, there's even a pleasant patio to sit at and sip a preserved plum drink ($2) or a soda ($1.25).
The menu is fairly basic Vietnamese fare, with the much-appreciated help of photos and numbers by which to order (because of course, I can never say "bun tom" without giggling stupidly). I headed straight for the A-5 (shrimp spring roll, $4.50), which is the now-ubiquitous unfried fresh spring roll. With a chewy outside and plenty of mint, cilantro and veggies tucked inside, it's a lovely little rice-paper-wrapped salad.
Dipped in a fragrant peanut sauce, the whole thing verges on food pyramid perfection--meat, veggies, starch and protein! Take a bit of heed: if you get it to go, the sticky-rice wrappers tend to cling to each other and rip, making for an ugly mess on your lap should you be driving and eating--which, of course, I would never do. And I especially would never figure out that putting the dipping sauce in the cup holder works like a charm when eating at 70mph. No way. The fried pork wontons (A-2, $4.50) are passable, but lack the sprightly allure of the spring rolls.
As for main courses, they're broken into soups (or pho), rice plates and my personal favorite, vermicelli (or bun). As the heat of summer rapidly approaches, bun's cool noodles and cucumber bits tossed with crunchy veggies, an array of leafy bits and a few tasty slices of meat all drenched with a spicy, sweet fish sauce make for a perfect light lunch.
In the vermicelli (as in many other Vietnamese dishes), meat is used as part of a chorus of flavors, rather than a quivering, flabby diva smacked center stage. The best of the bunch is the B-11 ($7.75), thin slices of barbecue pork, prawns and a fried egg roll perched atop a mound of slippery noodles. The idea is to dip, slurp and generally mix the whole thing together in a tasty mess. Just make sure to bring an extra order back for your office mates.
Truc Linh, 810 McClelland Drive, Windsor. Open for lunch and dinner, Tuesday-Saturday. 707.838.6746.
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From the April 13-19, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.