1935 West 4th Ave.
Open Wednesday to Monday, 11am-2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to late.
We’re a bit snobby in Vancouver when it comes to certain ethnic cuisines. The introduction of virtually any style of food at a higher level — save French, naturally — usually elicits some raised eyebrows and unspoken skepticism as to that cuisine’s relative merits.
Vietnamese fare in Vancouver has had a bit of an uptick lately, with the opening of places like Anh and Chi, and House Special. Chi Modern Vietnamese is another step in their cocktail-friendly direction. Opened by chef and MasterChef Vietnam finalist Chi Le last fall, this 50-seat restaurant in the heart of Kitsilano offers something a little extra to those smart enough to walk through the door.
Le is something of an oddity on Vancouver’s restaurant scene. She is not a professionally trained chef; in fact, she is a former jewellery designer who, without her knowledge, was signed up for MasterChef by a friend. As a busy mother of four, Le was a solid home cook who ended up as the show’s runner-up, then went on to write two cookbooks (one in Vietnamese, one in English) and eventually open her own eponymous restaurant.
Owner and chef Chi Le | Photo: Dan Toulgoet
The menu is fairly diverse and changes seasonally, as Le uses local, seasonal ingredients as much as possible. It’s also not entirely authentic. The goal here seems to be to offer contemporary Vietnamese in the same way that Maenam across the street offers up modern Thai. Innovative twists abound.
Take the crispy duck rolls ($9), for instance. These feature sous vide Brome Lake duck with rice noodles and herbs, double-wrapped in crispy skin and then rice paper, and served with some fish sauce for dipping. They’re beautiful to look at and delicious. Glutinous rice dumplings ($13) are also tasty, stuffed with pork, shrimp, mung bean and sprinkled with green onion. At only three small dumplings for a serving, however, the price is a bit steep.
Garlicky green beans ($17) are another higher-priced yet excellent dish. Despite the large mound of green, it feels a bit over the top to charge close to $20 for what is essentially a shareable side. As with the braised pork belly ($18) that we scarfed down at an indecently fast pace, the heat is well-regulated. Small, thinly sliced rings of chilli pepper lace most of the dishes and are easy to brush off if you’re a spice wimp.
Do not miss the sablefish clay pot ($23), an aromatic, slowly simmered bowl laced with caramelized fish sauce that hits some lovely rich and salty notes.
As for those cocktails, the slightly peppery Saigon Gin ($11) boasts lovely lemongrass and basil notes, rounded out with the infusion of green tea. For teetotallers, the zero-proof ginger beer ($6) is a refreshing, zippy glass full of lime leaf, lemongrass and an astonishing amount of ginger.
Interior of Chi Modern Vietnamese on West 4th Avenue | Photo: Dan Toulgoet
The food here is fresh, innovative and satisfying. The cocktails are well made and pair well with the menu. Some prices seem a bit high, but the service is solid and the room is pleasant. It’s worth a repeat visit or three.
All ratings out of five stars.
★: Okay, nothing memorable
★★: Good, shows promise
★★★: Very good, occasionally excellent
★★★★: Excellent, consistently above average
★★★★★: Awe-inspiring, practically perfect in every way