Restaurant: Broken Rice (Mains/Entrees – Part 2/2)
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
See my post on – Broken Rice Mains – Part 1/2
- Pan seared duck breast, wild rice, carrot, brussel sprout, drizzled in a red wine tamarind reduction $17
- This is not a traditional Vietnamese dish, but there are Vietnamese influences.
- The duck was sous vide and the fat was decently rendered, but I wouldn’t mind it a bit more.
- Yes, duck is supposed to have fat and that is where the flavour is, but this was still a bit thick and I think it could be softer and a bit less chewy.
- The skin was crisped up and it was served with a tamarind red wine sauce that was sweet and tangy.
- I thought the sauce was cranberry or sour cherry sauce, but the tamarind was the Vietnamese inspiration.
- The rice was a chewy red and brown rice with anise so it was sweet with a bit of a liquorice flavour.
- Traditionally red rice would be used for desserts since it is naturally a sweeter rice, so it was unusual to serve it as a starch for a savoury course.
- The red rice was supposed to be the Vietnamese fusion/creative part, but I didn’t find it really went with the duck.
- I would have preferred a different starch overall and I think it could get more creative than just fried red rice.
- The carrots weren’t quite tender yet and overall the dish wasn’t as imaginative, but it tasted good.
- It kind of came across as Vietnamese food you might find at a modern hotel and it wasn’t something I’d have to order again here.
- Sous-vide pork belly and harboiled egg simmered in coconut juice and fish sauce, served with broken rice, fennel salad, and crispy taro ribbons $15
- This is a traditional Vietnamese dish and it is often served during Vietnamese New Years and meant to be eaten for the first 3 days of it.
- It looks like a Chinese dish, but apparently it originated in South Vietnam.
- I question if it has Chinese influences because there is a Chinese dish that looks almost the same.
- The dish is “braised pork in a light sauce” and usually the presentation is family style and not as nice as this, but the flavours and ingredients were authentic to the original recipe.
- The only thing they left out were the bamboo shoots which may or may not be used in the original recipe. The dish can vary slightly.
The pork can be pork butt, pork shoulder or belly and in this case it was belly.
It is marinated overnight in some combination of traditionally coconut juice (they use fresh here), fish sauce, sugar, garlic, shallots, star anise and pepper.
- The belly was sous vide and incredibly tender without the fat breaking off.
- The skin was still slightly chewy, but almost melt in your mouth tender.
- The meat was infused with flavour, very tender, juicy and moist though and overall it was a very good pork belly.
- The cut of pork belly was quite fatty and I prefer a bit more meat to fat ratio, but traditionally Asian style pork bellies have more fat to meat ratio.
- The sauce is sweet and savoury and it tasted like a very natural pork broth with excellent umami.
- It was a fragrant sauce and the start anise was not over powering or very liquorice-forward, but subtle.
- The coconut juice is not obvious, but once you know it is in there you can taste it and it gives it a floral sweetness.
- The hard boiled eggs are a must in the recipe, but these were a bit overcooked with a grey rim around the yolk.
- The sauce goes great with rice which is served complimentary with the dish.
- It is a very homestyle dish that is considered Vietnamese comfort food, but this presentation was upscale and I liked it.
The pork belly is served with a side of pickled salad made with shaved radish, fennel and cucumber. The dressing is a mustard vinaigrette that is a bit sweet and tangy. It is supposed to balance the richness of the pork belly and sauce. Traditionally the dish is not served with this salad, but I liked the modern twist.
- Chicken dark meat stuffed with minced curried chicken, curry, onion, panko broken rice balls, lotus root chips, crispy taro ribbons, chili oil and side of steamed rice $17
- This is a modern interpretation of traditional Vietnamese curry chicken and I loved it. It was heavily influenced by French cooking.
- It was something you might come across at a fancy hotel in Vietnam, but it was still very good and I thought worth the price.
- The chicken was boneless, made into a roulade, and sous vide.
- It was dark meat chicken (leg and thigh) stuffed with white meat chicken to cater to both Vietnamese and Western tastes. (Asians prefer dark meat).
- The skin was seared crispy and the chicken was moist and tender and well flavoured.
- I wouldn’t mind less chicken skin in the dark meat wrapping though and it was a bit much, but still okay.
- The coconut curry sauce was equally as impressive and it was house made with no short cuts and the curry paste was made from scratch.
- It was a rich, thick and creamy curry sauce with great umami.
- It was reminiscent of Indian and Thai yellow curries, but it was Vietnamese.
- It was almost like a stew and I could taste ginger, garlic, lemongrass, coriander, cloves and fish sauce to give it savoury flavour.
- It almost tasted like a sweet potato or carrot curry and it was more orange in colour than normal. Usually it is yellow.
- The spices were finely ground, but it was aromatic and drizzled with chili oil (you can request more for spicier).
- Typically the dish can be served with cashews, water chestnuts, carrots or potatoes, but this was served with textures of lotus root.
- I loved the crispy taro root chips to give texture to the dish which is not traditional, but appreciated.
- It was also served with crispy deep fried panko rice balls made with plain short grain Vietnamese rice.
- You break up the rice balls and enjoy it with the curry and chicken. It was more exciting than the plain bowl of rice served on the side.
- Again, the panko rice balls were not traditional, but a fun and modern take to the dish that I enjoyed. I would order this again.