A Tiny Bites dinner date at Hai Phong
4 Comments Karen HamiltonApril 6, 2009
Trudy, whom I had met during the inaugural Social Bites dinner last fall, asked me to try her go-to Vietnamese place: Hai Phong. Rather than go it alone or drag my errant husband, who’s been distracted with tax season, I asked her to take me there. She was game.
We were joined by Jason Lau, foodie and frequent design partner of Tiny Bites Consulting, and served by brother and sister tag team Khiem and Lai Chau (who, despite all our compliments, was too camera shy for the photo above).
I thought we were in for a typical first-visit dinner : a dish apiece, perhaps an appetizer, perhaps a drink or two. As it turned out, Lai and her family bombarded us with an array of plates that they felt we had to try and then refused to let us pay for any of it. Behold the spread:
Banh Khot – Green bean muffin lettuce wrap dish, $8.95.
Trudy warned me beforehand that mung bean is often an acquired taste, but I wanted to try something besides the usual pho and bun. This dish was one of my favourites of the evening: the creaminess of the mung bean balanced with the umami and chunk of the pork and shrimp. (Jason was not a fan; Trudy prefers this dish in the usual crepe-style presentation.)
This dish is meant to be eaten in lettuce wrap format, but for us, it was too messy an operation. I wound up spearing a chopstick into my target and dunking the whole thing into my bowl of nuoc cham.
Hu Tieu Kho – Dry rice noodles, $6.95.
A Vietnamese take on chow mein, I suppose? This dish was another first for me; my acquaintance of noodles in Vietnamese fare is limited to pho and vermicelli. Trudy prefers Hai Phong’s rendition over that of Phnom Penh, a restaurant that she is also a fan of. This didn’t stick out for me. I ate it; it was good, I think; but it didn’t knock my socks off like other first bites in unfamiliar territory.
Complimentary servings of pork rib broth accompany dishes that aren’t already soupy in nature.
Bun Rieu – Crab mix noodle in soup, $6.95.
Trudy ordered this dish with a heap of customizations. I was surprised by this flexibility. At many family-run Asian diners, ingredient substitutions are discouraged if not outright impractical, considering the barriers of culture, language, and more. At any rate…whatever Trudy changed made for a damn delicious outcome. I even ate the Vietnamese ham, which I studiously avoid in most cases.
Hu Tieu Mi Bo Kho – Tomato beef brisket stew with rice noodle and egg noodle in soup, $6.95.
Lai recommended this soup when I explained my adoration of tendon. When it came to our table, I was saddened that there was no tendon in sight. Lai apologized for the confusion (she thought brisket was what I was referring to). Oh well – I’ll just have to come back to try something with tendon.
This dish sat well with me despite the mix-up. It reminded me of 3am brisket noodle soup dinners with my father and his musician friends, famished after a long night of jamming (I was part-time backup singer) at the venue a few doors down.
Bun Bo Hue – Spicy beef noodle in soup, $6.95.
Its broth was beautifully layered, deep with flavour and nuance, though that can be said of all the soups we had tried. The bun bo hue contained my favourite noodle of the night, which seems to be specific to this dish. I wish I had had enough appetite remaining to eat more of it, but the rest of the spread was already in my belly and I was no longer in the mood for more spice.
Sinh To Bo – avocado shake, $4.
Avocados are my weakness. I order this drink at Vietnamese restaurants, eternally an optimist, and am constantly disappointed by its artificial make-up (powdered mix once held appeal for me in Tang, but I grew out of that phase before I was 10). This was the real deal, chock full of fruit and green. It didn’t even trigger my lactose-sensitive system despite the presence of condensed milk.
A modern facelift
Hai Phong had been closed for nearly a year when a sewage pipe burst on their block, affecting the location and its neighbours***. The city lagged on the operations and administration necessary to get the restaurant open to the public. During that waiting game, the family decided to renovate.
I’m a fan of the simple, cheerful, and modern decor.
Kudos to Hai Phong for playing Canucks games on their flat-screen TV in lieu of the usual musical variety shows.
The restaurant shut down for the night before we realized that we had stayed for nearly 5 hours, sampling Hai Phong’s cuisine, chatting about food and Cooking Master Boy, and getting to know the family behind the business. We said our thanks to the Chaus as they sat down for their repast and quickly left them to their meal, minds buzzing with the lure of Tamarind Crab for our next visit to Hai Phong.
1246 Kingsway | Vancouver
*** Myth busted: Hai Phong was not closed because of shootings or other gang activity, which seemed to be a rumour that was going around the community when I had originally asked around about this restaurant.