Final Zagat meal #2 on the fourteen year, two thousand plus restaurant odyssey is Benley Vietnamese in Long Beach! It’s a sliver of a room that’s packed from early in the evening on for their delicious take on Vietnamese cooking. With tables lining the walls and a small three person bar to eat at this tiny place cooks up some mean food.
Decorated with pictures of Vietnamese on bikes adorning the walls, and with friendly service and competitive prices, there isn’t much not to like about Benley.
The menu has all the standard Vietnamese favorites and nouveau additions like panko-breaded shrimp with dijon aioli, braised short rib with avocado puree, battered slated cuttlefish and flattened chicken and red wine jus. Benley forges a near perfect combination of respecting the past while enlightening about the future of this cuisine.
The Monster decides to sample a few of the delicious sounding starters the wonderful people of Benley recommend. Cabbage chicken salad and blanched shallots with toasted garlic vinaigrette, a shrimp eggroll and spring roll combination plate (which they are nice enough to do when The Monster can’t decide between them) and the spicy green beans which The Monster is informed are a house specialty.
The food comes out fast, but it doesn’t feel rushed. The cabbage chicken salad features clean flavors, a bright mixture of textures that pop on the tongue. This has the right level of acidity and crunch and The Monster wishes he wasn’t already so full or he’d keep on eating it. Will make a wonderful breakfast!
The spring rolls are filled with shrimp, whole pieces of shrimp, not sprout or vegetable filler the way so many places will do to cut corners. The sauce has a kick. Another very nice dish even if it’s a simple one.
The egg rolls are fried but not overly so. They are just the right balance between being the paper thin variety oft seen in LA (which The Monster hates) and the terribly thick variety as favored on the East Coast (which The Monster adores but is glad he is not served on this evening).
And then there are the spicy green beans. We’ve all had spicy green beans. There is nothing left to do with spicy green beans. So thinks The Monster. He is wrong. These are the revelation. Lightly coated. The reason they are so delicious is the green beans have remained firm but don’t suffer from being fried. Spicy, slightly sweet and sticky. Yum. The Monster almost thinks they’d work as a dessert.
As the meal comes to a close The Monster realizes this is it. One last place to hit and then he’ll have eaten at every single restaurant listed in the 2011 Zagat Guide! Not one for too much reflection, this is perhaps a moment where a bit is in order. Nah.
With a long drive ahead a trip to the coed bathroom through the kitchen (authentically Vietnamese, the fact that it was clean perhaps not) is in order. If you are old enough that you don’t mark your height against the door every year still be aware the bathroom features the lowest light fixture ever installed in a Los Angeles restaurant. The Monster bumped his head twice (and he is not terribly tall). Mercifully, Benley had the good sense to make it a very soft fixture that won’t cause any damage to either you or it.
And with that, it’s on to final Zagat meal #1…
Pink’s Hot Dogs!
Why go? You’ve always wanted to know what it is like to feel tall.
Monster rating: 4/5 Monsters
8191 East Wardlow Road
Long Beach, CA 90808