The Deer Hunter: Venison Stir-fry at Song Phat

Please, Bambi, step into this coconut-turmeric sauce.

It may seem obvious, but if you want to taste a restaurant’s more extraordinary dishes, be on the lookout for a section of the menu marked “Chefs Specialties.” These tend to be preparations that the kitchen has deemed particularly worthy due to some special ingredient, its overall uniqueness, or a chef’s personal preference.

I live my life by “Chefs Specialties,” and the ones at Song Phat Vietnamese Cuisine in Canoga Park (yes, that is Phat with a P-H) are listed on the last page of the menu—a good sign. It’s apparent from the top that the chef here specializes in some interesting edibles. This list goes way beyond the more common banh mi, pho, and summer rolls. Instead, think dishes such as pork intestine with salted shrimp sauce, crispy fried frog legs, a raw shrimp salad, five-spice quail, and a whole herd of goat entrees.

For me, it was all about the Saigon- (now Ho Chi Minh City-) inspired stir-fry called Nai Xao Lan, or stir-fried tender venison in special coconut sauce. Venison is a rare find at local Vietnamese restaurants, and when executed well, can be a real treat. Here, the venison is lean and mild, barely distinguishable from its beef counterpart aside from a slight—but not unpleasant—dryness due to its lower fat content. The yellow sauce with a slight orange sheen is made with coconut milk and turmeric. Fresh chiles add a bit of heat heat while crushed peanuts provide satisfying bite and salty-smokiness. Torn Thai basil leaves introduce hints of sweet-pepper and anise.

It’s nice to know that the chef and I are on the same page—the chef’s specialty page, that is.

Song Phat
20506 Sherman Way
Canoga Park, CA 91306