Tonight, we were at Lunch Lady, the branch off of the Michelin Star Vietnamese restaurant in Vietnam. The sister to the very one that gained much of its notoriety thanks to an infamous televised meal shared by Barrack Obama and Anthony Bourdain.
Our group of 3 had all visited the restaurant prior, and dined in separately, but not since they have been awarded their own Michelin star here in Vancouver. So, when looking for a special spot to celebrate long standing fellow food blogger Joyce Lam of @vanfoodies and her birthday, we thought this was the most opportune time.
I love the outside of the restaurant with its mural that showcases the brand’s legacy, but have always wished that the interior gave you the same look and experience. The setting within is modern with metallic tables and a fully stocked bar. A nice hot spot to grab exciting drinks and an elevated Vietnamese meal at, if you did not know the story behind the name.
We looked through the menu and picked out our favourites to share 3 ways, keeping in mind my requested budget of $100 per person. The following is what we had and our shared notes, discussed in light conversation.
The Truffle chicken slaw could have used more truffle, especially as it is in the tag line. Free range chicken, cabbage, banana blossoms, Vietnamese coriander, shallots, and peanuts with a truffle-infused chilli lime vinaigrette. Therefore, without the pronounce flavour of truffle, this was a light and refreshing start of what is essentially a cold shredded chicken salad. I did like the contrast of textures with the crispy julienned vegetable versus the crunchy peanuts. Though found that the thick sesame crusted chip on the side added nothing to the dish, and was far too hard and thick of a base for such a gentle salad.
The Wagyu beef noodle soup was the most luxurious and sumptuous serving of pho I have had to date. Snake Rivers Wagyu Zabuton, Wagyu Beef Cheeks, Bone Marrow, rice noodles, 63-degree sous vide egg, and 24-hour beef broth. Every element added made the serving that much more posh; from the barely cooked slices of wagyu and their creamy texture, to the fattiness of the marrow lending a lush quality to the broth. And then there was the silken texture of the creamy sous vided egg yolk. You could tell the difference between the wagyu here and the raw slices of beef from the hot pot below. But the marrow is the big draw, it adds a fatty sheen to the broth coating the mouth and tongue, and the bone doubles as a shot glass if you ask.
Given that we were here celebrating we indulged in a bone marrow shot, typically an add on offered with their bone marrow dish, but seeing as we had a bone in our bowl above, we opted in with for a couple of bone marrow luges. Typically this is done with sherry or a creamier spirit that can carry the weight of the luscious bone marrow, and its flavour in turn accents the liquor. However everything goes when you are drinking and they can pretty much pour anything for you to shoot back. In our case it was a shot of Hennessy.
And you typically do the luge yourself, but our lovely server was happy to lend a helping hand. As we steadied the now scrapped cleaned bone to our lips, she poured the shot into its canal and it acted like a funnel directing the flow into our opened mouth. Be warned it is harder than it looks and most of the liquor either ends up on the floor or your body.
We spotted the Crispy Prawns from across the room and liked what we saw, so got our own. Six pieces of fried black tiger prawns with a floating crispy shell dusted with their house seasoning and served with a fish sauce vinaigrette. The way they are sliced and separated meat from shell makes them seem larger. You get the pleasure of eating the meat as is and then chewing through the crispy shell tail and all. You can taste the quality of the shrimp; its texture was fantastic. It just could have used more seasoning in the batter and more salt overall. It would have also been nice to some how have the flavour of the fish sauce incorporated into the batter, as to not have to dip and lessen their crunch factor.
The Lau Thai Hot Pot was a fun one, but we were not expecting a dish that we would have to cook ourselves table side. Don’t let the portion size fool you, we were able to fit a lot and fish out a lot from this little pot. It came to the table heated by a candle. Although we had to request 3 refills on the fuel and relights as the flame kept going out, as we were taking our time dunking elements piece by piece. Presented raw was a plate that included a whole lobster tail, baby octopus, clams, fish cakes, wagyu beef, king oyster mushroom, watercress, and migoreng noodles. How the pot tastes as a whole is somewhat dependent on you as the diner, and how dutiful you are watching and timing to ensure none of the meat is overcooked. Thankfully our server gave us a rundown on how long everything would take to cook.
Though the star of the dish is the broth the kitchen prepared. This was truly amazing! I have had no other broth like this. It was a refreshing hot and slightly sour, sweet soup. So wonderful as is that I made sure to not leave a drop of it behind. As for the soup ingredients, everything included were of such a fine quality that I found the instant noodle a distraction. They could have gone with thinner strand like a bean or rice noodle, to better flow with the sweet lobster, the earthy mushroom, and the fragrant clams.
By the time we got to the Steak Lu Lac we were so full. Northern Gold ribeye of beef, confit shallots, roasted pepper, blistered cherry tomatoes, watercress, and the Dak Lak peppercorn sauce. The steak meat was sliced up fatty and lush, so tender it practically melted. It was simply deliciously, although in comparison to the others, this main got lost in all the excitement of the other more familiar Vietnamese dishes.
And we also made the mistake of adding on the Lúc Lắc Fries to the steak, that we too couldn’t finish. And as tasty as they were, we had so many more exciting dishes above, to give to our limited stomach space. Especially as they did not pack well. Crispy on the onset, the fries do become less so the more they are allowed to cool. I did like how the gravy on them well compliment the steak sauce.
And we couldn’t walk away without trying some of their drinks, like their Vietnamese Iced Egg Coffee. This is classic Vietnamese style drip coffee, sweetened with condensed milk and topped with a condensed milk sabayon. It didn’t even matter how late it was and that she would soon be in bed, Diana of @foodologyca fame saw it and had to have it, declaring it great and was everything she expected.
Seeing as she was the birthday girl, Joyce went with a more spirited drink. The Birds of Passion cocktail is Lunch Lady’s take on the classic Jungle Bird. Tropical and bright, with a subtle bitter bite. El Dorado 12-year Rum, Campari, Lime, Passionfruit Puree, and Pineapple. Joyce liked how the citrus and subtle sweetness in this have paired well with all our food and the flavours common to Vietnamese cuisine.
I could not be left cheers-ings with water so went for the Pandan Coconut Milk Tea that caught my eye. I love anything pandan related. Given that it had no other description I figured that its name said it all. However, when I took a sip I was caught off guard by how gritty this drink was. How can such a heavy and sandy texture come from just coconut and/or pandan? Only when we got the bill did we learn it was from mung bean. What a weird and unnecessary mix. I didn’t like how the presence of the bean disrupted something I knew so well. It was so off putting for my palate that I didn’t even drink more than a quarter of it, and if you know me, you know I absolutely hate washing food or drink.
Seeing that I didn’t finish it, after we had paid our bill, the manger jokingly scolded me saying I should have told her before I paid as she would have removed it from what we owe. C’est la vie.
And just before we exited we were presented with a round of complimentary fruity shots to celebrate Joyce’s birthday with one last round. A shot each with the birthday girl doubling up. This was a wonderful gesture that made this delicious night all the more memorable.
1046 Commercial Dr, Vancouver, BC V5L 3W9, Canada