The Place: I hope this charming family-run Chinatown Vietnamese bistro doesn’t find itself overwhelmed by the sudden surge in popularity that comes from a review singing its praises that ran in the Citizen recently. But I confess that’s what led me to Huang’s, an unassuming spot I had missed on my diligent rounds of Vietnamese restaurants clustered around Booth and Somerset over the years.
The Deal: What a treat to discover not just the same old list of springrolls, pho and bun but a menu filled with enticing new-to-me dishes. The invigorating scent of simmering broth and fresh herbs fills the air. I want to bottle it.
The Dish: Scanning the room, everything looks delicious but one dish in particular caught my eye immediately from a neighbouring table. I would later recognized it as banh xeo, the oversized, over-stuffed savoury pancake I once sampled in Paris. The relationship between French and Vietnamese cuisine has a long history and its influence here is an example of what happens when a dish takes the best of two worlds. Banh Xeo crosses the technique behind two French classics, the crêpe and the omelette, with several of the trademark flavours of Vietnamese cuisine: the addition of fresh bright herbs, crunchy lettuce, carrots, cucumber, and bean sprouts, as well as plump shrimp and pork. Most importantly, it gets a boost of umami from the sweet, sour, and fishy-funky dipping sauce. I believe Huong’s is one of the few places in Ottawa that make this dish and for me, it is worth the price of admission alone.
At first I mistakenly guessed the bright yellow colour of the pancake came from egg yolks but after chatting with the charming and obliging staff, I was presented with a package of the flour mixture used to make the golden envelope: and indeed the hue comes from turmeric, which is blended with rice flour. Sometimes coconut milk is mixed into the batter, but at Huong’s it’s simply water. When the platter arrives at the table, the server snips it into manageable sized strips that facilitate the building of multi-layered mouthfuls, essentially lettuce wraps. The addictive nature of the pancake itself comes from that ever-pleasing contrast between a crisp caramelized exterior and soft, almost creamy interior. But when combined altogether (a fun, tactile game in itself), it’s a case of the sum being even greater than the parts.
The Price: $8
Closed on Tuesdays.
Huong Vietnamese Bistro, 343 Booth St., 613-237 8755.