Restaurant: Broken Rice (Mains/Entrees – Part 1/2)
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
I posted on the appetizers I tried at Broken Rice – here, but that was only the beginning. More often than not I’m more intrigued by appetizers, but in this case the mains delivered as well.
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.
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:
See my post on – Broken Rice Drinks & Appetizers
- Stir fried beef tenderloin wok tossed with red wine and soy sauce, tomato rice, watercress salad ($9 for lunch – smaller portion shown in photo and $17 for dinner for larger portion).
- Luc Lac beef is a traditional Vietnamese dish known as “Shaking Beef” in English.
- This was actually quite traditional although they upgraded the quality of beef from what most Vietnamese restaurants would serve.
- It sounds a bit of a waste to cut up a tenderloin like this, but I won’t argue with better quality.
- On the other hand some of the beef was buttery and tender while a few pieces very chewy.
- I prefer the beef cooked medium rare and this one was sautéed until medium-well, but luckily being tenderloin it didn’t suffer too much.
- The beef had a very subtle soy based marinade with fish sauce and perhaps a bit of sugar.
- The shallots and garlic were minced so fine and blended into the marinade that I couldn’t see them, but taste them.
- The flavour of the beef was quite common and not necessarily memorable, but it was authentic to the flavours of Luc Lac.
- The pickled onions on top is also traditional and besides adding crunch and acidity to the plate, it is believed to help digest the beef.
- There are many ways to serve the dish and it can be with white rice, tomato rice, or just with salad.
- They served it with a fresh watercress salad and fried tomato rice which was a bit Ketchupy (Ketchup is used in Asian cuisines).
- It is also common for it to be served with a lemon pepper dipping sauce, but this had no condiments.
- The dipping sauce would be the one Phnom Penh serves with their chicken wings – see here.
- Instead of the dipping sauce they served it with white and black pepper dusted lemon wedges on the side.
- You squeezed the seasoned lemons over the beef before eating.
- Phnom Penh also has a version, but it is more restaurant style and Chinese influenced – see Filet Beef Luc Lac on Rice.
- Chicken, ginger, black mushroom, and lily blossoms over broken rice in clay pot $13 (Offered at lunch and dinner)
- This is another traditional Vietnamese dish, but it comes across as Chinese in terms of flavour and style.
- I’m not sure the history, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was adapted from Chinese cuisine.
- From a Chinese perspective it tasted like Chicken Clay Pot Rice served at dim sum, but made by Westerners for Westerners.
- The vegetables were a bit crunchy and not quite tender and I would prefer the cilantro to be chopped up a bit more and used for more than just a garnish.
- The diced chicken thigh and breast were just sautéed in soy sauce, sugar, garlic, ginger and the flavours were quite expected.
- The chicken was sweet and salty and gingery in flavour, but not quite spicy.
- The ginger was very forward and I could taste it in many ingredients since it was cut julienne and in rather large strips.
- The dish was quite bland so it really needed the dipping sauce served on the side.
- The sauce on the side was home made and it tasted like a hybrid of sweet soy sauce and nuoc cham sauce (Vietnamese fish sauce vinaigrette).
- The rice was Vietnamese short grain rice or “broken rice” which is rice that is damaged during the milling.
- Broken rice is traditionally used in Southern Vietnam and often it is served with grilled meats, pickled vegetables and a bowl of soup on the side.
- The best part for me is the very bottom of the clay pot where all the rice gets all crispy from the heat, but this one had no crispy rice.
- Apparently most of their customers are unfamiliar with the dish and do not like the “burnt rice” on the bottom, which is unfortunate and I wish they just stuck to tradition.
- The dish didn’t seem like it was cooked in the clay pot, however upon confirmation it turns out it was. Too bad it didn’t translate without the crispy bottom.
- Slow simmered beef noodle stew with slow braised carrots, onions, and cilantro $10
- This is a Southern style of Vietnamese pho.
- It is a sweeter style of beef pho and it is actually a stew.
- This is not Bún bò Huế or Bún bò, but if you enjoy that spicy beef noodle pho from Central Vietnam than you will possibly like this too.
- Bún bò Huế or Bún bò is more fragrant with lemongrass, salty, sweet, sour and spicy, but this is more sweet with warm spices, savoury and spicy (you can request spicier).
- Traditionally this is served with a French baguette, but this version was not.
- The flavours of this committed to how Vietnamese mothers would make the dish at home which is always ideal.
- There was a good amount of beef brisket and it was cut into cubes with a lot of the fat/membranes removed.
- The brisket was still very tender and moist though and I enjoyed it.
- The beef was “cleaned up” and cut into nice cubes and presented for Western tastes, but the flavours of the broth were legit.
- The broth is made from beef broth and carrots and the spices are mild but there is a bit of chili oil for heat.
- I could taste flavours of anise and perhaps cinnamon or cloves and that’s what aids to the sweetness and aromatics.
- It was more broth than stew and it was rich in flavour. It had depth without being too oily, greasy or salty.
- The baby carrots were not traditional and the broth was likely made with larger Chinese stewing carrots, but they didn’t serve them in the final presentation.
- The noodles got a bit too soft, but otherwise the soup packed a ton of flavour and the condiments were fresh and clean. I would order this again.