Two words: lemongrass chicken. Where? West Lake Vietnamese Kitchen. Why? Because it’s SO good. It’s better than……….now let me think about this for a minute…..ok, it’s better than receiving a two year-old Christmas card in July, originally written in Vietnam and mailed from Calgary. Yes, that has happened to me, and it is awesome.
West Lake Vietnamese Kitchen used to sit in Empire Centre, and only last year moved to its new location off the Canada Line on No. 3 Road. They have a fairly extensive menu (vegetarian options available), and are known for their combos: appetizer + entrée + drink, starting at $9.00.
I was joined by Amy Sherman and Frank DiMarco, a food writer and photographer (from San Francisco and Portland, respectively), who are in town to explore Richmond’s food scene. They know their food, they know how to photograph it, and we had a great time.
Though a touch sweeter than I’d have liked (this is a common theme by this point), the young coconut juice I had ($4) was cold and thirst-quenching, and our prawn salad roll ($3) had plenty of basil tucked inside it, which as Martha would say, is a very ‘good thing.’
The banh mi (Vietnamese sub, $4.50) was great, with brightly-pickled carrots and daikon. It also had fresh cilantro, ham, Vietnamese ham, and just the right amount of tangy mayo. I’d grab one for a picnic any day, and am already looking forward to comparing it to other banh mi around town.
Soup-wise, we went with one of the “Chef’s recommendations” from the menu, a Pork Hock and Beef Flank Rice Noodle Bowl ($6.5) served with bean sprouts, Thai basil, and jalapenos. Its spicy, flavourful broth pushed my heat tolerance to its limit (though it is building daily!) and the meat, especially the beef, was fantastic.
We also ordered the Special Dry Rice Noodle ($7), which had a crispy, herby garnish, more beef, and a savoury brown sauce that stuck to the rice noodles. It came with a bowl of broth to loosen them, just like the lo mein at Lido, only this one had beef balls in it.
But now, to my two new favourite words – LEMONGRASS CHICKEN. The presentation of this dish ($6) was simple: two pieces of chicken, a mound of rice, and a small salad garnished with a slice of fresh orange. The chicken breast was split lengthwise, marinated, and grilled. It was perfectly cooked, moist from the chicken skin, and tasted citric and slightly charred, just like summer. Afraid of chicken skin? Fear not; you could simply remove the skin and enjoy it just the same.
We followed this up with a deep-fried banana with coconut ice cream ($6, yup, DO IT), and I was one very happy camper.
Speaking of camp, this is where I was last July – in the middle of a flooded field at our tree planting camp in Chetwynd, BC.
I miss camp, but I don’t miss the mud, and the whole experience has made any other job seem cushy. As I headed out of the restaurant yesterday – cushy job, CHECK – I listened to one of the podcasts I used to play in the kitchen at camp (fyi, approximately half the things that come out of my mouth are related to a podcast I’ve listened to). This one is called Radiolab, and it’s a show that makes science accessible to arts-based science duds like myself.
This particular episode had me captivated. And what was it about? GUTS! This will surprise friends and family, as I’ve been known to faint at the mere mention of blood. As soon as I heard the line “The stomach is a centre of magical transformation,” however, I was all over this episode like digestive enzymes on a freshly-swallowed piece of steak. Among many things, it helped me understand exactly what was happening to the delicious lemongrass chicken I’d just consumed, and gave me a greater appreciation for the ways in which food and the body have been viewed, misunderstood, and manipulated for centuries. Of course, much of the body is still a mystery to us, but at least now we understand how the stomach works. For example, if you put 19 kinds of ice cream into it in one day, it will hurt. Didn’t need a scientist to tell me, though, because I ALREADY KNEW THAT FROM EXPERIMENTING ON MYSELF.
If you’d like to have a listen, the episode is here, and you can subscribe over iTunes as well. If you’re the least bit squeamish when it comes to talking about your insides, maybe avoid it. Just put on soothing music and go get some lemongrass chicken from West Lake instead.
West Lake Vietnamese Kitchen
Cash and cards accepted.