I was in Nelson for the week and dining out for all of my meals. And always when I don’t have anything specific in mind, I lean towards Asian cuisine when given the option. My journey around town brought me to Yum Son, drawn in by their logo of the waving lucky cat.
They celebrate being Nelson’s very first Viet-Modern restaurant, claiming to bring the flavours of Southeast Asia into each of our cocktails and culinary dishes. Like many of the other restaurants I have discovered thus far, they too use hormone and antibiotic free meats that are sustainably raised and provincially sourced. And wherever possible, their veggies are procured seasonally and locally from farmers and friends.
I walked in optimistically, but sadly, even after 2 goes at their menu, I couldn’t get on board.
I stared with their Bone Broth Caesar as an interesting take on one of my favourite cocktails. It comes with your choice of spirit, Chilli Oil, Nuoc Cham, Worcestershire, Yum Son Bone Broth, Clamato, Thai Basil, House Pickles, and a Citrus Sesame Salt Rim. There is the bonus option of adding a spring roll as garnish, which I took advantage of, to be able to try what it would be like if I ordered a serving from off of their appetizers list.
The cocktail was tangy with fish sauce and rich from the broth, a tasty mix that got watered down quick from the excess ice. There just wasn’t enough tomato juice for me to think Caesar.
As for the Imperial Spring Roll it was Pork, Cabbage, Mushroom, Mung Bean Noodles, Nuoc Cham, Lettuce & Fresh Herbs. It came fresh from the fryer and still saturated in oil. The grease coupled with the flat salty flavour of it fell short. I took a few more bites before calling it quits, even going so far as to utilize the Caesar in place of a dip. The pickled vegetable topping the cocktail did help to perk the spring roll up. However, I would not recommend the drink and suggest that you save your $6 on the spring roll.
Doing my research online, I came in wanting to try their visually stunning Saigon Sour prepared with Lemongrass Infused Broker’s Gin, Lillet, Fresh Lime, Black Pepper, and Egg White. This was delicious, an already light cocktail made even more easy drinking with the sweet egg foam topping. And simply special with the garnish of a single leaf, black peppercorns, and a single miniature crane gingerly placed on top. I was later told that each origami crane is hand-folded by a man in Singapore, whom the restaurant orders from, 200 at a time from off of Etsy. I made sure to keep it as a souvenir of my time in Nelson, and homage to this man’s patience.
Given their use of the multiple “Pho” puns on the menu, I wanted to try what they were indirectly advertising. I ordered their priciest bowl with all the proteins available. Humorously titled “Are you pho real?!” This was a big bowl of Beef Bone Broth, Rice Noodles, Sliced Rare Beef, Braised Beef Chuck, Lemongrass Grilled Chicken Thigh, Pork, and Duck Meatballs. Although it looked promising, it sadly made it to my list of one of the least satisfying bowls of pho I have had to date. The broth was paper thin, despite over salting it, it had no depth. Where was the flavour of the bone there were boasting? I made out the faint air of lemon grass, but over all this was not for my experienced palate. Or maybe I, who is more familiar with and tends to lean toward punchier flavours.
There is a caddy of sauces to help inject self-prescribed flavour as needed. Here the chilli sauce, hoisin sauce, vinegar, and sesame seeds were all used. In conjunction they helped, but still left me wanting more.
As for the proteins they were definitely the highlight and as expected. The tender rare beef was lovely. The beef brisket was super tender and it fell apart under the pressure of my chopsticks. The lemon grass chicken lost its flavour in the broth. And although the duck meatballs were a nice twist, I was not a fan of its crumbly sausage-like texture and the number of herbs that came through in it. It definitely distracted from the light broth.
Despite the many disappointments during my initial visit, I thought to give them a second try. Now that I know what to expect, I came in anticipating their fusion Vietnamese menu.
I visited for a later lunch, learning that their banh mi’s are only available before 4:30pm. The daily special was a hoisin braised duck confit with Pickled Carrot & Daikon, Cucumber, Chili Aioli, Cilantro, Jalapeño, and Crispy Shallots. It is served with your choice of fries, slaw or broth. I went the unusual route with broth.
This is the smallest banh mi I have ever had. The bread was the highlight, browned crispy. An amazing baguette that would have been better suited with a lighter filling of fine meats and cheese with a jelly compote to contrast. However, this was sandwiched with over sauced, tougher meat. The butter lettuce did nothing, but immediately wilt under the weight of the excess sauce. And the pickled onions and single slice of cucumber were not enough to help brighten up the dish. So much so that I ordered a side of the pickled carrots and daikon that were listed as being part of the other banh mis, and what I assumed would have been included in this one. I guess in hindsight I should have chosen the slaw as my side. They helped, adding freshness and more closely resembling what I knew a banh mi to be. Though it still was not as expected and ate very messy with everything falling out, however I was committed to not wasting the bread, so finished it.
As for my broth on the side, it was the same as the one used for the pho the other night, just as flat. It was served in a cup and not really a sipping beverage or good as a dip which I thought I might want with the sandwich, like a beef deep. Once again, I should have gotten the slaw, or even the fries for a sandwich and fries combo.
As a mid day pick me up I also ordered their Hanoi coffee which is house made sweet egg custard and fresh brewed coffee with cinnamon sparks. After I said I was familiar with the coffee, I was given a warning that it is sweet. To which I asked if it is sweeter than usual, and the server knew not what usual was. Makes sense considering this was fusion food. Seeing it made at the bar the other night with shaved cinnamon set a light with actual sparks I was intrigued enough to order it now.
And yes, as warned it was sweet. I just did not expect that it would throat crawlingly sweet. It drank like something a child would concoct in order to make bitter coffee bearable. I only have myself to blame, as I didn’t trust the word of a Caucasian man who hasn’t had or even heard of egg coffee outside of his workplace in the remote Kootenays. Thankfully he was kind enough to inquire if it was too sweet and proceeded to take it away and not charge me for it, as was far too sweet to enjoy.
I followed this with their chicken wings, which came highly recommend by my server/bartender the other day, and that I did end up liking. These are their most popular menu items in the most popular flavour: a Sweet Soy & Lime, with Scallion & Peanuts for crunch. Not Vietnamese specific, but I could see the intended flavour profile and the Asian influences. Crispy and meaty with plenty of flavour, outside of the paper crane cocktail, this was the only thing I liked from them unfortunately.
The service was at least friendly and attentive. Just with one slight irritation, as my lunch time server presented everything spilt, the coffee dripped and the broth drooled. Luckily there was a plate to catch all the fluids. And he did drop a few items a few times around the restaurant as well, given the quicken pace he was attempting to work at. I definitely had a better time and service during dinner, which was a busier with a rush.
In closing, sadly not a restaurant I would recommend or visit again for my tastes. But they definitely had a busy house and a loyal fan base of those who appreciated their take on Vietnamese-light cuisine.
522 Victoria St, Nelson, BC V1L 4K8, Canada