I’m back. I was quite busy lately. Still, a busy man got to eat, which meant I have a bunch of posts backlogged. There was one particular restaurant in my travels that made me compelled to return to FinestDish. A relatively new Vietnamese restaurant in a quiet North Burnaby neighborhood serving refined Vietnamese cuisine, without the fine dining price. The weird thing? It worked.
There wouldn’t be anything special about this restaurant until you sat down and flip open the menu. Or before you even touch the menu. It was hard cover, clean, and well printed, indistinguishable from any high end establishments in this fine city. I looked through the menu and I had to double check to make sure this was still a Vietnamese restaurant. Pork Belly Sliders? Beef Carpaccio? Seriously? And that was only the starters.
It took us a while to decide on our starters, as most of the things on there were quite interesting, things you wouldn’t normally find in a typical Vietnamese restaurant, let alone elsewhere. I’ve never had just fries for a starter, so I thought if they had the balls to put it on the menu as a starter, it must be good. I was right. The Cassava Fries, crispy Cassava wedges served with a house aioli sauce. It had a well seasoned crust, with a soft interior where I could taste the potato-like flavor. I liked the creamy aioli. It was quite well done and deserved a spot as a stand alone item in the menu.
Our next starter was the Beef Carpaccio, thin slices of beef tenderloin bathed in a citrus marinade and topped with cilantro, rice paddy herbs, and caramelized onions. We had a WOW moment when it was presented on our table. Sure, we’ve had Beef Carpaccio on numerous occasions before, but this was something different. The Asian influence was unmistakable. The herbs and caramelized onions made it seem like an Asian dish, but you open your eyes and it was Beef Carpaccio staring back at you. In terms of flavor, the marinade was strong and it bought out the taste of the beef. The greens contrasted the dish textural wise quite well. This was probably the best Beef Carpaccio interpretation I’ve had in a while.
Our mains came and my friend had the Pho. I didn’t get to taste it though.
I had the classic Lemongrass Chicken, grilled chicken breast served with a salad of fresh watercress tossed in a house vinaigrette. It was relatively bland compared to the competition. I was quite disappointed, we just had two great starters that seem to set the standards, but this dish was just about average. I mean, the chicken was cooked well, but I thought it just need a tad of seasoning to bring out the taste. I thought this restaurant had potential, so I just have to let the waitress know. We had a lengthy chat. Hopefully the next time when I come back, they’ll fix it.
A few weeks later…
Turned out that the next time I came back, it was Dine Out season. I didn’t even know they were participating in the Dine Out program, so this was a surprising treat. The wine pairing available in the Dine Out menu made me smile.
For the starter, I had the Betel Beef Wraps, beef tenderloin, jicama, lemongrass ginger marinade wrapped in fragrant betel leaves. The meat was tender, but I thought the stuffing was just about average.
My friend had the Squid Ate The Spring Roll, crispy squids stuffed with pork spring roll mix, lightly seasoned. I love the beautifully seasoned crust and the strong flavor from the stuffing. I sure wasn’t expecting food of this calibre from this restaurant, but there it was, right in front of me. This was very good. The flavor was just screaming for attention!
Our mains arrived and I had the Chicken on Chicken on Curry, lemongrass-marinated chicken ballottine with roasted vegetables, coconut curry broth, panko broken rice balls. I was immediately captivated by the plating. It was presented nicely, like in a fine dining restaurant. (The real thing looked better than the picture, my camera wasn’t configured to shoot in low light.) I love the medallions of ballottine, it was so tender and flavorful with the perfect texture. This was augmented by the lovely creamy coconut curry broth, which added just a tiny hint of heat to the meat. My only complaint was the rice balls, I found it a bit crunchy, so I need to soak it with more of the delicious curry sauce for better flavoring and texture.
My friend had the Duck With Tapioca Cake, crispy duck breast, tapioca cake, wild rice, sauteed vegetables, plum and tamarind sauce. Again, I was impressed by the plating. The duck was tender with a nice sweet marinade, and the duck skin provided more of a charred flavoring. A slightly less complicated dish than my curry, but still beautifully executed.
For desserts, I had the Coffee Panna Cotta, coffee-infused panna cotta with chocolate shavings and condensed milk drizzle. Again, one of the more beautiful desserts I’ve had. It was very creamy and I could taste the hint of coffee. I couldn’t taste the chocolate shavings, although it provided some crunchy to the otherwise very creamy dessert.
My friend had the Tropical Fruit Sorbet, home-made recipe bursting with refreshing tropical fruit blend, accompanied with fresh fruits and fruit coulis. I had one spoonful of the sorbet and it was packed with sweet pineapple flavor. It was no wonder that my friend left her plate finger licking clean.
The price wasn’t bad either, which means you would still have some money left to fund your local joke of a local transportation authority’s “projects”. Service was quite attentive and friendly, with someone constantly checking if we were doing OK or if our teapot was empty/cold.
An anal food blogger from the 1980 would tell an Excel spreadsheet worth of reasons why this is or is not an “authentic” Vietnamese dining experience. But are food not allowed to evolve? Sure, there’s always a danger of going overboard when they’re trying too hard, and things just won’t work. But that’s not what happened here, almost everything I tasted here was strong in flavor and executed with care. I love the level of creativity that the chef has and the passion that radiates from every dish. If you are tired of the cookie cutter menus that most pho restaurant have, or if you have an open mind that can accept the idea that food are allowed to evolve and be influenced regardless of culture, or you just want to try something new, Broken Rice is worth the detour.