Thahn Xuan – Vancouver, BC


Trahn Xuan
2200 Block of Kingsway at Nanaimo St
Vancouver, BC

Trahn Xuan on Urbanspoon

bahn_cuon_1

I love pho. It is a delicious, nourishing lunch time meal….however, I am in a pho phunk. I think may have had too much pho lately.

I live in an area in East Vancouver which is dotted with great Vietnamese restaurants. The Vietnamese triumvirate of pho, bun, and bahn mi are my usual suspects in this area…but I needed a change.

I have been aware of Thahn Xuan (literally a hole in the wall on Kingsway) for quite a while. It is located adjacent to a Pho Hoa franchise location, an adult video store and a massage parlour. I never thought much of it because it looked very much like the many Vietnamese “Cafes” (… often smoky gambling dens in disguise) that dot this section of Kingsway.

This place serves Northern Vietnamese food that is not pho-centric…as a matter of fact, in spite of the signage on their window that declares they offer pho, they don’t actually serve it. They have a small menu – less than ten dishes listed on the photocopies taped up to the wall. Their specialties are bahn cuon (Vietnamese Rice Rolls), bun oc (Freshwater Snail Soup) and bun rieu cua (Crab Cake and Seafood Soup). it.

I have to admit I felt some excitement (…these kinds of things excite me). This type of restaurant is not common here in Vancouver – a Vietnamese restaurant that doesn’t serve pho, com, bun or bahn mi? What is this? Here in North America, this type of place is more common in places like Westminster and Garden Grove, Vietnamese enclaves in Southern California.

I have been back a number of times since my first visit here a few weeks ago and have tried all their specialties.

bahn_cuon

Bahn cuon, a common breakfast dish in Northern Vietnam is their main specialty. Bahn cuon is rice roll stuffed with minced pork with a side of nouc cham dipping sauce and the requisite herb salad. From my observations, this is the most commonly ordered dish here.  I have seen it at many other Vietnamese joints in town, though here at Thanh Xuan, they don’t use the usual premade Chinese rice rolls – you can watch them make the rice noodle sheets fresh to order in the back. These sheets are thinner, more translucent and chewier than the more commonly used Chinese variety. The herb salad is well appointed with about four or five uncommon greens.

soup

Another dish I could recommend is the bahn rieu cua – soup with a seafood-stock base with house-made crab cake and various greens (notably the anise-flavoured Vietnamese celery). The crab cake is usually made by grinding or pounding whole mud crabs, shrimp, and pork into a cake-like consistency (see photo). The best bowls of bahn rieu I have had outside of Vietnam were served in Southern California and they also included cubes of pork blood, tofu puffs, and other accoutrement that Thahn Xuan’s version lacked. Still, this was a very good rendition.

crab_cake

The food here is good – but not exemplary (even compared to some Vietnamese places as far north as Seattle – and I won’t even bother comparing it to places in Vietnam). Still, this is a welcome addition to my list.

I am seeking more places like this – places that serve uncommon (for this city) Vietnamese dishes. Song Huong (whose proprietors are ethnically Hue – a people from the middle section of Vietnam – serves a killer Bo 7 Mon and some good Hue food. Co Do, which recently closed, used to serve great Hue food (they had a good bun bo Hue and nice little starch dumpling appetizers). Truong Thanh just down the road on Kingsway at Victoria is another very good Northern Vietnamese restaurant with a non-pho centric menu. (Look for an upcoming report on Truong Thanh here on Foodospsohy).

Anyone out there know of any regional Vietnamese restaurants that are worthy of a visit? I would love to know about them.

Trahn Xuan on Urbanspoon

Advertisements

Book Kyung Ban Jeom – Vancouver, BC


Book Kyung Ban Jeom
1638 Robson Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 629 8822

Book Kyung Ban Jeom on Urbanspoon

Competing for the highly demanding dining dollar along this section of downtown Vancouver that has in recent years become the domain of East Asian eats, is the uniquely positioned Chinese-Korean cuisine of Book Kyung Ban Jeom.

Without a doubt, it is a lesser known variant of popular food in South Korea, with most North Americans probably unaware of this genre of food from this country.  The local blogosphere also suggests that most of the coverage on Korean food in town centers all too much on barbecued meats.  It is as if to say that Italian cuisine is simple spaghetti, or Japanese food is only sushi.

To help spread the word of something other than bulgogi, kimchi and bibimbap, I thought I would introduce two of the major staples of Chinese-Korean food, both of which they do well at Book Kyung Ban Jeom.  I’ve dined here several times and the clientele has been mixed, so I do believe that its not just local Koreans eating here, so I take that as a positive sign that Vancouverites are open to trying a new element of food from this region.

Pictured above is the tangsuyuk, which is a mixture of red peppers, onions and crispy deep fried pieces of pork, all coated in a sweet, and slightly sour sauce.  Texture is key here with the veggies not at the overly-cooked through and thus soggy state, as the slight rawness of it complements the outer coating of the pork pieces.  It comes out pipping hot and the small serving ($14.85) is more than enough to share between two people, and is offered in a large size as well.  Goes well with soju if you happen to be there at night.

Of all the dishes in Chinese-Korean cuisine, the wheat noodles slathered in a savory soybean-based sauce with chopped vegetables and small bits of beef that is better known as jajangmyeon ($9.45) , is probably what comes top of mind.  The sauce and toppings appear on top of the noodles for presentation purposes, but its important to mix it all together – much like you do with bibimbap.

I am not sure how to best express this in English, but the “bite” or general “chewiness” of the noodles is what makes or breaks this dish, as is the case with other noodles from other cuisines.  In Japanese, the expression “koshi” is often used to describe this.  Something to note when sharing this dish.  The noodles are very long and entangled as they are and with a slippery coating due to the sauce, it makes it difficult to try and transfer them into smaller cups for individual servings.  You may end up giving up and eating from the same communal bowl, for those that cringe at doing such a thing, be aware.

As one of the more spacious and better naturally lit Korean restaurants on Robson, Book Kyung Ban Jeom is very inviting when you glance in from the sidewalk and enter the main foyer.  If you are open to trying the Korean twists on some Chinese-inspired dishes, this is a solid place to venture out of your Korean food comfort zone.

Book Kyung Ban Jeom on Urbanspoon

Otto – New York City, NY


Otto Restaurant Enoteca Pizzeria
1 5th Ave
New York, NY
(212) 995-9559

Otto on Urbanspoon

Otto: Italian for eight. In NYC, it means another Batali/Bastianich enterprise.

If you’ve read Heat, it’s hard not to remember Otto. The incident where Batali, angry at Bill Buford who has been pulled off the line and is standing in a corner, marches into the kitchen and stuffs his mouth with a large piece of griddle pizza and states “this is the taste America is waiting for”. Based on the crowds, apparently this was the taste they were waiting for.

It’s ostensibly a pizza and wine bar. But it has a fairly extensive menu. And is huge – this place is a stadium with the noise to match. It is quite hit and miss in my books. Pizza’s are good. Cooked on a griddle (not in an oven), they develop an interesting taste. A bit bland though.

sspx0234

The antipasti’s have their fans too. The vegetables were small servings of marinated or tossed vegetables. Have to say, at $4 a pop, it just wasn’t worth it.

sspx0237

The charcuterie was a bit of a disappointment. Cured meats were decent, but lacking in anything that blew me away. Lacked any punch or really interesting flavour.

Desserts, on the other hand, were spectacular. The cheese platters (uhmm, clearly taken a bit late in the meal) represented an excellent cross section of Italian cheeses.

sspx0239

And the gelato. I have to agree with my dining companions – some original, and surprisingly tasty flavour combinations. The best of the best was the Olive Oil gelato. Yes. Seriously. A total knock out. Creamy, fruity, a bit pungent, this was fantastic. All the subtlety of olive oil brought out in this chilled medium.

Otto is a reasonable place to eat. They take reservations, they seat a million, and the prices are pretty reasonable, especially for the location. I feel like they try to channel you to drink wine, which isnt a bad thing, but at the end of the day, you have some decent food at decent prices, and some sparkling dishes in a monstrous sea of choices. Experiment a lot or pick carefully. You will hopefully find some of those diamonds too.

Otto on Urbanspoon