We’re always on the lookout for better Vietnamese eats in Vancouver. Even with the large-ish Vietnamese population here, I find the majority of the Vietnamese restaurants to be quite average. Most places stick to the same boring standards, executed with the bare minimum of care and attention. Lack of special herbs, pho soup with chili oil masquerading as bun bo hue, etc…
An exception to this rule is Broken Rice, but we wanted something a bit closer to home, so we tried Cuu Long on Knight near Kingsway after a highly respected chef recommended it to us. While not everything we had was great, some dishes really impressed us.
Cut to the chase: Cuu Long’s Ca Kho To was the best dish of the night, deserving of its very own video!
Ca Kho To is catfish in a carmelized sauce cooked in a claypot. It arrived at our table bubbling and aromatic. More about that later 🙂
Cuu Long is on Knight St., just south of Kingsway.
They’re open for late breakfasts. I’d get something like congee or pho if I were to eat breakfast around 10:00am.
Very clean condiment basket. Ahhhhh.
If you want more background on this place, you should read Mia Stainsby’s review.
Standard plate of pho-companiments. They gave a wedge of lemon instead of lime because I ordered their “Free Range Chicken Noodle Soup” (Hu Tieu Ga Vang). I’ll just call it their Chicken Pho, cuz that’s basically what it is. I think it’s more traditional to use lemon in chicken pho rather than lime. The lime crisis was basically over by the time we ate here.
Nuoc cham looks a little light but didn’t taste watered-down.
Steamed Rice with BBQ Lemongrass Chicken. Boneless chicken thigh with skin on. Chicken was flavourful and decently moist. Nice aromatic char on the outside. I don’t like the iceberg and industrial tomato, but I guess it’s something we have to accept. I think it really cheapens a dish to include stuff like that, but I don’t know what the solution would be. Anyways, on the whole this was a tasty, competent dish.
Free Range Chicken Noodle Soup. Served with a little dish of chili salt.
Green onions and fried shallots on top. Soup was aromatic and flavourful, with an acceptable amount of MSG. Stark contrast to the chicken pho I had at Cafe Phin, where the amount of MSG they used made my mouth vibrate. I really like the use of free range chicken; meaty, richer chicken taste with a firmer yellow skin, as opposed to the flabby, fatty conventional chicken. The fried shallots gave a little bit of crunch and taste so good with the soup and chicken.
Thinner pho noodles, cooked a bit on the softer side of firm. Completely enjoyable. Something about the smell and taste of a chicken soup makes it the ultimate comfort food.
This little side dish of salt, chili and lemon is for dipping the chicken.
Squeeze the lemon into the salt to create a uniquely Vietnamese dipping slurry. Tasted really great with the chicken, as long as you don’t pick up too much salt 🙂
Another dipping slurry you might’ve seen is ground black pepper with lime, sometimes served with Shaken Beef (Bo Luc Lac) — that is, if you can find a place that goes the extra mile to do a more authentic version. Maybe Broken Rice?
The best part was the fried bits of pork fat on top!
The star of the night, Ca Kho To (carmelized catfish with soy sauce and black pepper in a claypot), arrives at the table bubbling and steamy. Some places make this dish too syrupy sweet. Not this place. The sauce was sticky and glossy without being too sweet. Actually pretty subtly balanced, I think. The catfish was delicate and not mushy. The best part was the fried bits of pork fat on top! It was like mini cracklings sprinkled on top of sweet/savoury/umami penetrated fish. It’s a very Vietnamese way of eating: little portions of richly flavoured protein eaten with big bowls of rice. It’s peasant food, food made to fill you up using small amounts of meat, poor people food, but the taste is amazing. We actually couldn’t finish this so we got the rest to-go and it tasted even better the next day! It’s the kind of dish that, when eaten when you’re really hungry, could elicit moans of pleasure. One of Cuu Long’s strongest dishes.
Did I mention that you can also get this dish with pork instead of fish? It becomes an entirely different beast, that we’ll have to check out next time! I wonder if they still put bits of fried pork fat on top of the pork version? I’ll probably just request it if they don’t! ^______^’
We also got a Lemongrass Pork Chop on Rice to go (not pictured). It was just ok. Superthin chops with a lemongrass flavour that was a little weak compared to the Lemongrass Chicken. So not everything they do is a standout. However, I’m looking forward to trying their Bo Kho (Spicy Beef Brisket with French Bread) and Canh Chua Ca (Sweet and Sour Fish Soup). We’ll see…
Let’s play the video again!