Rancho Cordova, CA 95670
The discovery of Rancho Cordova’s Mint’s is a tribute to the beauty of randomness. One evening, daughter Katie signs off on trying a Vietnamese place, so she shoulders the task of selecting such an establishment closer to the Lucas Family Test Kitchen near Watt and Highway 50 than, say, somewhere on Stockton Boulevard. Howzabout Mint’s?
Part of the attraction for her, despite the relatively close location, might be the absence of words like pho, or hoa or bac in its name. Just Mint’s and the following: “Euro-Asian Cuisine.” Very benign sounding. It’s a snaky drive to 11088 Olson from Zinfandel. Mint’s is tucked behind a leafy tree, so it’s almost missed. The mustard-colored walls, muted lighting, dark wood tables and smattering of tall bamboo plants are warm and inviting.
Dinner traffic is light. Katie is the second person. This causes speculation as to how the place has survived 10 years. More patrons at lunch is the answer. The absence of other diners also leads to delightfully personalized service.
Oolong is the tea of choice. It arrives in a hefty metal pot. The menu describes the origins and characteristics of the eight other tea options. Crispy spring rolls win as an appetizer. Crispy is more Katie’s choice, but she chooses wisely. The rolls—consisting of pork, shrimp, mushroom and cellophane noodles—are inspired with the sum being better than the parts. The dipping sauce only adds to the delight. The rolls are vacuumed from the plate, which is garnished with vermicelli and lettuce.
For entrees, ordering goes overboard, leaving Katie plenty for a take-to-work lunch the following day. Katie’s suggestions are crab fried rice and sesame chicken. Mint’s tiger prawns are added. The biggest raves are for the fried rice. It’s light and fluffy, courtesy of the crab meat, which combines neatly with the shallots and shiitake and egg. Never tasted fried rice so airy. Similarly, the sesame chicken isn’t drowned in heavy, syrupy sauce. Nor is it grotesquely deep-fried. Like the rice, it’s light.
On the heavier side are the prawns. Four tepees of butterflied shrimp lean on a mound of garlic noodles ringed by green beans. The noodles have Parmesan on them and fully live up to their moniker. Perhaps the cheese, not traditionally part of Asian cooking, accounts for the “Euro” in Mint’s name. Another reason could be that the traditional spiciness of Thai and Vietnamese are not present. Even when requested to fire up the lemongrass chicken at a later lunch visit, the nose is nowhere near running.
Indeed there are more customers at lunch, about 15. But there are still plenty of empty tables. Even with the bigger crowd, service is still almost overwhelmingly attentive. The complimentary wonton chips are crisp but not oily. The server informs they taste good with or without the orange sweet-and-sour sauce that comes with. She’s right.
The passion-fruit ice tea in its large beaker is exotic and refreshing, requiring no sugar. There’s no shortage of lunch specials—29—that come with soup or salad and either jasmine rice or garlic noodles. The preferred choice is shaking beef, but the beef has run out. Delivery is delayed. Hence, lemongrass chicken. The garlic noodles are darned hard to eat with chopsticks. Jasmine would have been the better choice, particularly as an accompaniment to the chicken, whose grated-lemongrass-laden sauce is memorable. Also memorable is the smoky soy and fish-sauce vinaigrette on the bowl of complimentary salad.
Thwarted at lunch, a nocturnal return succeeds in sampling the shaking beef. Again, Euro-like, it’s only modestly peppery. The beef is cubed rather than the wafer-thin slices at Lemon Grass Restaurant. The blackberry from the large selection of Italian sodas hits the spot, albeit tasting a bit like a fruit syrup and 7 Up combo. The shrimp pot stickers are blanketed with a Penang-colored curry peanut sauce.
Management and staff are endearing. Food is simple but fresh—and addictive.