Restaurant: Broken Rice (Appetizers)
Cuisine: Vietnamese (Modern)
Last visited: April 16, 2013
Location: Burnaby, BC (North Burnaby)
Address: 4088 Hastings Street
Phone: (604) 558-3838
Transit: WB Hastings St FS Gilmore Av
Price Range: $10-20+
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- Vietnamese family owned/operated
- Co-owner also owns Green Lemongrass Restaurant
- Some Authentic Vietnamese dishes
- Some Modern Vietnamese dishes
- Neighbourhood favourite
- Family friendly
- Vegetarian options
- Lunch & dinner menu
- Open Daily: 11:00 am – 10:00 pm
**Recommendations: Cassava Fries, Uncle Hing’s Garlic Butter Chicken Wings, Salmon Ceviche, Beef Stew Noodles, Pork Belly and Anise, Curried Chicken Ballotine
Crave the Heights in North Burnaby is in full swing (April 23-25) and after my Crave contest it was obvious there was interest in Broken Rice. I was invited to try out the restaurant and I was pleasantly surprised with their lunch menu and actually made plans to go back for dinner on my own. Co-owner Nancy kept emphasizing their dinner menu and how the experience would be different; and in fact, it was, and I’m glad I went back again although the lunch was no disappointment.
There are many factors influencing how you will enjoy, experience and appreciate Broken Rice. In the historic neighbourhood of Burnaby Heights, where age old mom-and-pop restaurants dominate the area, Broken Rice stands out.
The sign is new and appealing and it has an image suitable for downtown. On the other hand the stereotype of Vietnamese restaurants in Metro Vancouver is skewed – see here. Here, the common belief is the sketchier the Vietnamese restaurant the better and the more authentic it is, so I questioned if Broken Rice was going to be some horrid comeback of the “Asian fusion” food trend of the 90’s. Well, there was only one way to find out.
When I walked in (from the back) it had no signs of a stereotypical Vietnamese restaurant which I wrote about here. I didn’t have to close my eyes walking past the kitchen and it seemed clean and comfortable – from the washrooms to the dining room. It was actually quite nice and almost too nice to the point where I thought “oh no, is this going to be watered down Westernized Vietnamese food?” Judging from their lunch and dinner clientele it was obvious it was popular with the Westerners, so I was a bit worried I had fallen for a “trap”.
Take a deep breathe and relax though, this was no trap, this was just Vietnamese done differently. No, it’s not quite fusion, but it is modern and more upscale for the area. Some dishes are catered more for Western tastes than others, but it is not watered down and they are not taking lack of familiarity with Vietnamese food to their advantage. There are no short cuts here. Their passion to do something different and creative may come across as “fusion” or “Western”, but there is a lot of thought and professional execution going into their recipes, quality of ingredients and end presentation.
If you grew up with Vietnamese food there is a good chance you might not like this because your _____can make a better one, but for an “outsider” this is something unique. It is not necessarily authentic, but it is something other than pho. Broken Rice offers a polished and modern interpretation of Vietnamese food we rarely get to see in Vancouver.
The owners are Nancy (on the left) and Chef Yen (on the right), who also owns Lemongrass Vietnamese restaurant. I almost did not want to mention that fact because it makes people draw comparisons and they can not be compared. They are apples and oranges and cater to two completely different crowds.
Broken Rice is where Yen exercises her creativity, and while some dishes were just okay, some were actually excellent and overall everything was good. Come with an open mind and don’t come seeking authenticity, although they don’t take you for an idiot. This is more French style Vietnamese food with modern Canadian flair. Vietnam was a French owned colony and her inspiration also comes from living in Canada for over thirty years. The style is different, so come with the right mind set.
At first glance the menu might seem pricey because in Metro Vancouver we are used to seeing Vietnamese menus with dishes all under $12. So when you see $17 as a main you get caught off guard especially for the area which is known for affordability. However before you judge the prices, just wait until you see what comes out and in fact the quality is there. If it was anything other than Vietnamese food or if this was located in downtown, or if the ambiance was more trendy and modern, you would think it was excellent value, at least I did.
It is certainly nicer than an average middle of the run Vietnamese restaurant, but the prices for dinner are slightly higher to be enjoyed by most on a daily basis. It’s just a bit fancier than what would satisfy an every day craving as to why it doesn’t necessarily call out to the neighbourhood locals. However it is not a fancy place with a contemporary atmosphere either so it might not draw a downtown crowd it wishes to attract. So if you live in the neighbourhood you may not feel like you’re really going for a night out if you came here. The food is better than the ambiance and room, but it is clean and polished. They are working with a tricky formula but I am rooting for them and it is a pleasant addition to Vancouver’s dining scene.
Note: If you came here in the first few months or even half a year it opened, then I recommend coming again because the menu has changed. They started with growing pains and it took a while for them to figure out their audience and what kind of restaurant they wanted to be (and to be honest, they’re still kind of working on it), but it is worth a re-try.
For Crave the Heights they are offering a $25 3 course set menu custom made for the event – see here. I came for lunch and dinner and I recommend coming for dinner unless you are conveniently nearby for lunch. Dinner is more of a dining experience and the menu offers more creativity. If you’re making an effort to come out then come for dinner.
On the table:
Mango Shake – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)
- Around $4
- This was good, but it was just heavier with the milk so it was more like a milkshake, but there was no ice cream in it.
- It was a touch sweet for me, but it was still thick, creamy and a bit icy.
- I could taste the mango which could have been canned, but I just wanted more fresh mango.
- The drinks were a bit small and the menu said it was made with real fruit, but I still like the Phnom Penh ones better – see Mango Moo Shake.
Lychee Shake – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)
- Around $4
- Again the menu said it was made with real fruit, but it was likely the canned lychee which can still be good.
- It was less sweet and more refreshing than the mango, so I preferred it to the mango even though I typically like mango drinks better.
- Phnom Penh also does a lychee version which is thick with fruit, icier and piled high- see here.
**Cassava Fries – 4/6 (Very good)
- Crispy cassava wedges seasoned with paprika; jalapeño garlic mayo $5 (Usually comes with 10-12)
- I’ve had casava fries before, but usually at Latin restaurants. I wasn’t expecting to see them here.
- I like them and will eat them, but I would not normally order them. These came recommended.
- I was surprised how much I liked them and I don’t think I’ve ever had cassava fries done this well before.
- Cassava is usually found in traditional Vietnamese desserts, so this was quite a modern appetizer.
- Cassava is a South American root vegetable that is more starchy and fibrous than a potato.
- They were light and crispy and steamed first before being dusted with rice flour and flash fried.
- The inside was fluffy and tender and they were not overcooked or too starchy and they almost tasted like Russet potatoes.
- The seasoning was sweet, savoury and slightly spicy and it tasted exactly like seasoning on BBQ chips. I loved it!
- The jalapeño garlic mayo tasted like spicy tangy Thousand Island sauce so I didn’t really care for it, but the fries were good on their own.
Duck Confit Sliders – 3/6 (Good)
- Duck confit, pickled carrots, daikon, cucumbers, onions, cilantro, ginger hoisin sauce, steamed bao $6 (Usually comes with 3 sliders)
- Whoa! Roaming Dragon? Le Tigre? Momofuku? Banh Mi Boys? I didn’t expect to see these here. It was another modern Asian dish.
- When I tried them the steamed baos were being bought, but now they are making them in house. I tried the house made ones alone and they were quite good.
- I could have used more duck confit because I couldn’t taste much duck and it was more bun.
- The duck was made in house and it was moist and shredded and mixed with sweet and savoury Hoisin sauce.
- It was not fatty and there was not much or any skin in it and I could taste more Hoisin sauce than duck.
- It was a steamed bao (bun) meets a Peking duck wrap meets a banh mi with the pickled daikon, carrots, cucumber and cilantro.
- I wouldn’t mind the veggies a bit more finely shredded in the context of this delicate steamed bun, but it was still good.
- I wouldn’t necessarily have to order these again, but if there was more duck I would.
Prawn Mango Salad – 4/6 (Very good)
- Green mango julienne, shrimp, cucumber, carrot, daikon, jicama, Vietnamese coriander, mint, caramelized onion, crushed peanuts, citron vinaigrette. Also available with crispy tofu. $8 (Smaller portion in photo)
- I really like green mango salad and this was a very good Vietnamese mango salad.
- The ingredients were fresh and well marinated in a Vietnamese sweet, savoury and tangy fish sauce vinaigrette.
- It is a very aromatic salad and the Vietnamese coriander and mint were also very fresh.
- Green mango is tart so the dish is very acidic and crunchy, but I love all the different textures it has.
- The green mango in this came across as green papaya though and usually green mango is still yellow, but this was green.
- Another Vietnamese salad I recommend is the Pomelo Salad at BaoQi Eateri.
**Uncle Hing’s Chicken Wings (Garlic Butter) – 5/6 (Excellent)
- Wings tossed in: Uncle Hing’s hot sauce, garlic butter, jalapeño basil, or fish sauce tamarind $6 (Smaller portion in photo)
- I was kind of getting a Phnom Penh feeling here with the menu, but the style was very different.
- I don’t think I would have ordered this if it wasn’t recommended because they didn’t stand out on the menu or sound very exciting, but they were awesome!
- Calling it a family recipe and putting “Uncle Hing” on the menu made it more appealing. Usually it means it is a tried, tested and true recipe.
- These garlic butter chicken wings were addicting!
- They had a light and crispy batter just like Phnom Penh Chicken Wings, but I wish they had crispy fried garlic or even just the fried minced garlic on them.
- They were very lightly seasoned and not as salty as Phnom Penh’s.
- There was no obvious sugar or use of MSG, but they were still delicious!
- They were still very garlicky and I think marinated in garlic juice or garlic paste because the garlic flavour was infused into the meat.
- They were so flavourful and juicy, but also a bit greasy (as expected).
- I wanted way more garlic butter and it was kind of drizzled over the wings so I only got it in that bite.
- It would be great to make the garlic butter as a dipping sauce, although it was oily enough already, but it does need to be better distributed.
- The whole dish reminded me of garlic butter escargot, but with chicken wings.
- I wished the jalapeños were cut up smaller too and the tomatoes were a bit random, but I think those were just for presentation.
- These did not taste like Phnom Penh Chicken Wings and I liked that they did not try to copy them and made these their own.
**Salmon Ceviche – 5/6 (Excellent)
- Citrus marinated salmon, sawtooth herb, basil, cilantro, cucumber, capers, pickled onion, pickled ginger, crispy shallots, crispy taro ribbon, jalapeño mayo, shrimp chips $9 (Dinner menu only)
- When this came out I felt like I was at Hapa Izakaya or even Minami. This was straight out of downtown and the flavours delivered. I would order this again.
- I know! Ceviche at a Vietnamese restaurant?! I would never think to order this, but again it came recommended.
- Ceviche is not traditionally Vietnamese, but in Southern Vietnam there is a small region where Vietnamese ceviche does exist.
- In Southern Vietnam the ceviche will be made with white catfish, but here they put a Vancouver twist to it and used salmon instead.
- I loved the textures of this dish and it was crispy, crunchy, juicy, aromatic with basil and just well marinated and flavourful.
- The salmon was sashimi quality, but it was farmed and wild would have been better. However $9 for this portion and presentation I thought was fair.
- Usually ceviche does not require high quality seafood since it gets marinated anyway, but this was actually a good quality farmed salmon and it was buttery in flavour.
- It was lightly marinated in citrus and I could still taste the salmon and not just lemon. They didn’t skimp on the salmon either.
- I liked that the salmon was cut in big cubes instead of diced or minced like tartar. It was almost like a salad more so than ceviche.
- The cucumbers were cut to the same size with the seeds removed so they were not watery and very crunchy.
- The pickled onions and capers made me think of a smoked salmon salad, but it was good.
- I couldn’t taste much pickled ginger and it was a hybrid of Canadian, Latin, Japanese and Vietnamese.
- The sauce was the jalapeño mayo which was brushed on the plate.
- It tasted like the same sauce served with the Cassava fries and it was almost like a tangy and slightly spicy Thousand Island dressing.
- It came with 6 prawn crackers and it was just enough ceviche to load up the prawn crackers with.
- The portion and plating was great and worth it.
Thanks for the review, was planning to go next month. I try the wings…although I test all Vietnamese places on their pho and their rolls.
@Bow – oh yay!!! But remember you can’t compare this to traditional Vietnamese places…. this is modern so you need to compare apples with apples 🙂 BUT I did have a pho and it was home made style and the rolls were also legit according to Vietnamese friend born in Vietnam.
I can see how certain cultural cuisines have inadvertently stereotyped themselves over the years to fit a certain budget, image, etc. and I’m happy to see restaurants such as Broken Rice (and Joyeux, Bao Qi, DD Mau, and that defunct one on Davie ?) try to break out of that traditional mold and go “fusion” (sorry, I didn’t want to use the F word) with slightly higher prices to boot. A local Vietnamese resto in our neck of the woods went through a few iterations in the past few years, and resulted in this:
While their name resonates more with the um, neon-esque genre we’ve come to know (and love), their dishes are made with care, quality and the space strike of modern tasteful austerity (with a bit of help from the space’s previous defunct incarnation: NOA Pan Asian Bistro). But I’m really glad they’re still around and serve up pho, traditional and newer dishes with quality and value 🙂
LR, I think you are referring to Chau Kitchen & Bar in Robson (rather than Davie), which was then replaced by Kin Resto & Bar and have since closed. Actually, that corner seems to be cursed as restaurants haven’t last long…
I won’t necessarily call it stereotyping; rather, a case of what works. To put it in perspective, how many “fusion” ethnic restaurants have come and gone, compared to “traditional” ones. In the case of the traditional ones, it will fit all ages, from the older generation to the new one, whereas the “fusion” ones rely more on hipster type customers. Besides, nothing wrong with a “cheap” banh mi rather than a “fancy” one a double the price!
Having said all that, the dishes do not necessarily looks “fusion”; rather, more nicely plated!
Great review! Haven’t tried this spot yet. Photos of the food you took looks great! Will definitely try it out next time in the hood.
I’ve been wanting to try this restaurant from the first moment I heard about it. I’m so happy you are reviewing it. It looks like wonderful ‘change of season’ cuisine. Back from France with a whole suitcase full of chocolate, olives, breads and cookies. Speculoos in everything it seems….. especially in chocolates….. not that I’m complaining or anything. ; )