When JT suggested Anh + Chi for her birthday dinner, she was very passionate about the new eatery as she compared it to Ba Bar, her favourite hip Vietnamese restaurant in Seattle with delicious cocktails, where I happened to visit recently.
Arriving at the restaurant on Main and 18th, I suddenly realized this place used to be Pho Hoang, one of the oldest pho restaurants in Vancouver opened in 1983, which I visited a few times over the last 10 years. Soon I found out from chatting with Vincent, the show runner of the evening, that he took over Pho Hoang with his sister Amelie from their parents, and had an incredible makeover on the dining space and the food. I suddenly felt like being on the set of my favourite TV show, Restaurant Makeover. This is all very exciting!
Brother and Sister
According to Vincent, the new name of the restaurant means Brother and Sister in Vietnamese. The new establishment reflects how they, the 2nd generation Vietnamese Canadians, try to preserve an ethnic cuisine and its amazing culture, and also try to add their own personal views of hip and trends, making the food and the atmosphere much more vibrant and exciting. And they are benefited from the family business achievements – their cousins are actually running upscale Vietnamese spots like Tamarind Tree and Long Provincial in Seattle.
The interior and decors are stylish with a lot of organic colours from green plants and genuine wood furnishing. From the hand crafted wooden table to elegant dinnerware, the owner’s endeavour shows their attention to detail. The most impressive piece is probably the bar area with artistic patterns, showing some fine craftsmanship.
The “pre” and “post-1975” cocktail choices were enticing with the whimsical names such as J’s Grass is Greener Here ($9), a post-1975 version of Pisco Sour with a Vietnamese twist, consisting of Pisco, Elderflower Liqueur, lemongrass, egg white, and lemon, and my Live & Let Live ($12), an attempt of reminiscing the pre-1975 French colonial night life, glamorously flavoured and coloured with Vanilla infused vodka, Chambord, passion fruit, lemon juice, and a shot of sparkling wine on the side. While the visuals were stunning, the flavours could be bolder in order to be a bit more memorable. But we did pleasantly enjoy sharing a pitcher of the Vietnamese Pimm’s & Limeade ($32), mixed with Pimm’s, Martini Bianco, fresh pineapple and dragonfruit, lemongrass, fresh lime, & a touch of coconut, which seemed perfect for such a warm sunny evening.
The menu here encourages sharing dishes for the full Vietnamese family style dining experience. We tried a few starter dishes, which again, were visually captivating.
Our first appetizer was the Gỏi Cuốn – Cay Me, or Hand Made Rice Paper Rolls with Tofu ($4), filled with fried organic tofu, lettuce, jicama, carrot, shredded coconut, roasted peanuts & mixed herbs, with light soy sauce on the side. The wrap was thin but everything was held well together. I loved the extra lettuce sticking out the salad roll, which looked whimsical, but also helped holding the roll much more easily.
The Lụi Nướng skewers ($3/each) looked too cute and pretty to be eaten. I particularly enjoyed the Beef on Lemongrass skewer, which was flavourful. And I thought the Baby Octopus one was slightly under cooked, which was possibly intentional. But with the baby octopus so tender, they could be cooked a bit more to have a slightly crunchier texture instead of a mushy and slimy one. But this is just my personal preference.
Ken and Yann shared the Cánh Gà ($11), the Vietnamese Style Fried Chicken Wings, cooked in butter, garlic, and chilli fish sauce, very similar to what I had at Ba Bar in Seattle, but seasoned better with less salt.
The Bucket List
The Bucket List is a section of a few Vietnamese classics, including my favourites Bún Bò Huế ($12) (Spicy Porkhock Noodle Soup) and Hủ Tiếu Khô ($12) (“Dry” Tossed Noodles), showing the different varieties of rice noodles in Vietnamese cuisine. And I had my eyes on Khay Bánh Hỏi Lụi Nướng ($18),
The true stars of the evening were the two family style dishes. Although the flavours were familiar, the dishes were elevated by some of the most aesthetic presentations I had ever seen in Vietnamese cuisine. The arrangement of colours and flavours on each plate was just brilliant.
The Canh Ca Thì Là ($18), or the Wild Sockeye and Fresh Tomato Soup with Fresh Dill, was warm, fragrant and vibrant. Typically served with white fish, their version of the soup features an amazing piece of salmon, perfectly cooked, complemented by the proper amount of acidity from tomato, and finished up with an incredible aroma of fresh baby dill. I was satisfied with the comfort brought by the soup – it was a happy moment.
The Cá Chiên ($18), or the Crisp Fried Whole Red Snapper, on a bed of fresh mango salad, was another strikingly gorgeous plate of food. The fish was fried to crispy on the outside along with thinly cut shallots, but moist, tender, and succulent on the inside. The natural sweetness of the fish was so sublime on my palate that, the flavour quality was almost close to the one from crab or lobster. Adding the mango, the fish sauce dressing, and a little bit of jasmine rice, this dish was perfectly balanced.
Yann’s Cari Gà ($15) or the Light Yellow Curry with Chicken was another visually pleasing dish. I had a taste of the curry. The spiciness was subtle but the depth of flavours was definitely there.
The Dining Experience
The service was excellent throughout the dinner service, as the servers were friendly and attentive. But we ran into some small issues with our bills towards the end. They didn’t seem to be able to separate bills for us, and it took them a long time to have the bills settled. Was’t sure if it was their system or it was the server who didn’t know how to use the system properly. Also they told JT that she would get a free scoop of ice cream for her birthday, but the ice cream still ended up on the bill. Although they tried to correct it and presented a new bill for her, somehow the server still punched the amount on the old bill in the interact machine. It was a bit of a mess. But I really hope they would look into this so that they’d be better prepared for bigger parties.
The food was divine. Although we didn’t have any of the typical pho or rice dishes, the family style dishes really rocked our senses. The presentation was breathtaking, the taste was superb, and the whole eating experience was quite pleasurable. The price is on the expensive side here compared to other Vietnamese restaurants, but like going to any other hip and unique restaurant or bar in the city, you pay for an exquisite dining experience. Considering most of their dishes are under 20 bucks, you would probably only get a starter for $20 and have to spend over $30 for a main dish at one of those upscale places. And if you are craving a good bowl of pho under $10, I’m sure there are many other places to choose from. I truly appreciate the fact that, as Pho Hoang was the pioneer of Vietnamese cuisine in Vancouver, their next generation has just started a whole new genre of Vietnamese finer dining. This is all very exciting.
I’m truly looking forwards to my next visit to Anh + Chi.