Flavourful Vegetarian Things at Do Chay on Kingsway

The day after this meal, I had one of the biggest, easiest dumps in my life. Plenty of delicious fibre to be had at đồ chay (websiteInstagram). Here’s what happened leading up to that precious moment.

Wicca and I have been passing by this space for maybe a year or more before it finally opened. It was an intriguing mystery. Then finally when it soft-opened in May 2019 I figured out that this was the latest place opened up by the Do family (Green Lemongrass, Broken Rice, House Special). You can see their modern, vegetarian/vegan leanings in the House Special menu (e.g. Vegan Pho with sliced avocado). Do Chay takes that to their logical conclusion — an exclusively vegetarian/vegan Vietnamese restaurant.

This place will draw inevitable comparisons to the plant-based Vietnamese trailblazer Chau Veggie Express but Do Chay is entirely their own thing, and don’t need to rip off anything from anyone else. While the food at Chau is great, Do Chay kicks it up a bit with their superior “fish” sauce. It’s healthy competition in all senses of the word.

This is why most Vietnamese places have sturdy laminated menus — menus get greasy fast.

The current menu is marked as the “Spring/Summer” menu. And since they still seem to be in soft-opening mode, expect changes/tweaks/etc. They were also testing desserts (which I’ll get to below).

Explanation of their name. It may be just me, as a non-Vietnamese speaker, but the restaurant name is a bit of a pun cuz the family name is Do as well.

“Sour Peen” apparently refers to jalapeño, not the other thing…

Their full menu is available as a pinned post on their Facebook page. We’re big fans of hefty, dense cassava fries, so that was a must-order.

We’re no strangers to seitan (wheat gluten), having eaten it at places like Bo Kong back when it was on Main St. in the space that became Zipang Provisions (and is now Seiza). But aside from the seitan calamari, there’s isn’t much on the menu that’s “vegetarian food trying to look like meat”. Good move.

Aside from “Desert Island Noodles”, the menu has refreshingly straightforward dish names — in contrast to the fanciful but overwrought dish names at Chau.

Three tidy taps of local craft beer. A win.

There is a bit of fun in the cocktail names, which is to be expected. We both laughed at “Paris by Night”.

In the heart of Little Saigon, located right beside Pallet Coffee Roasters, and down the street from the massive we-love-corner-locations Hakim Optical.

Wicca says Vietnamese people have a thing about bird cages…

…with or without birds in them.

Black Lemonade ($4) with activated charcoal and served with a paper straw. Too tart and not enough sweetness to balance it out. I’m still not sure if black charcoal brings any flavour whatsoever to anything it touches, but I still participate in the charade of trying it in drinks, baked goods, and ramen.

Seitan Calamari Lotus Salad ($12) with fried “calamari”, marinated cucumber, chili sesame oil, pickled lotus stems, peanuts, cilantro, and wood ear mushrooms, and microgreens (pea shoots?). Lightly dressed in a tart/sweet dressing. Lots of crunchy textures going on. The lotus stems are thankfully lightly pickled, unlike ones from Vietnam that we’ve bought in the jar that are overpowering. These in contrast are light, crispy, and fresh-tasting.

A nice slightly salty hit comes from the fried seitan calamari. It really doesn’t taste like calamari at all, and only vaguely resembles the texture of calamari (if you overfried it by a couple minutes). Taken as its own thing, it’s a great component to the salad, providing crunch and chew.

Fantastic Cassava Fries ($5) with sriracha mayo.

A standard sriracha mayo.

The frying job on these were great. Crispy/crunchy on the outside, and as moist and light as cassava can get on the inside. Hearty. Irresistable. Also very starchy and filling.

My commentary on food Instagrammers and their visual clichés. If you tire of the standard overhead shots or flatlays, or claw-like hands holding stacks of shit, you can try making things look like dicks. You’re welcome.

Banh Xeo Crepe ($14) with bean sprouts, jicima, and mushrooms with herbs, greens, and vegetarian nuoc cham (fish sauce dipping sauce) on the side.

Good selection of Vietnamese herbs. They even included some starfruit!

Instead of the usual leaf lettuce, they give you these greens. We don’t know exactly what these are, but I’m pretty sure we’ve seen them at 88 Supermarket and other Vietnamese grocery stores. Really special and a cut above most other Vietnamese restaurants, vegetarian or not.

Since it’s vegetarian, I’m not a stickler about how much pork or shrimp they put inside!

The vegetarian nuoc cham here at Do Chay is really accomplished work. It’s nicely balanced and hits all the notes you’d want — sweet, sour, spicy, savoury. While it doesn’t have any of that deep funky, fermented umami that anchovies provide, what is there is great. It’s a fully functioning member of the team and possibly Do Chay’s strongest card.

Visually, the banh xeo didn’t look that caramelized and crispy, it actually was crispy when I wrapped up and ate it. It’s a good vegetarian banh xeo that gives you the full banh xeo experience.

Desert Island Noodles ($13) with thick rice noodles, coconut milk, vegan meatball, tomatoes, shredded tofu, peanuts, fish sauce (ironically mispelled on the menu as “ish sauce” — “is it fish sauce? Well…it’s ish sauce…”), greens, and herbs.

We love these kinds of thick rice noodles. Almost the thickness of udon but made with rice instead of wheat, so less chewy than udon but still had a good amount of chew for a rice noodle.

Love seeing rau ram and other herbs. It’s crucial for Vietnamese cuisine.

The “vegan meatball” had a VERY loose texture and tasted of nuts and water chestnuts. Good flavour, with a bit of savoury umami in it. The lightness and texture reminded Wicca of the shrimp, pork, crab, and egg meatballs in bun rieu (Vietnamese crab noodle soup). Another good and hearty dish.

Overall, I noticed how they didn’t lean on salt to provide flavour. In fact, the general flavour profile in most of our dishes skewed slightly sweet. The food still exemplifies the qualities of great Vietnamese food: freshness, flavour, and vitality. The dishes weren’t just good for Vietnamese vegetarian food, they were good Vietnamese dishes period.

The kitchen was testing some desserts and sent us a couple to try. Steamed Coconut Agar-Agar with mango purée, basil “caviar/pearls”, and edible flowers. A nice, subtly sweet bite, with the coconut really coming through. The basil caviar is almost like a throwback to a different era…the era of foams, clouds, syringes, and skidmarks or splatters of sauce on a plate. Honestly I couldn’t taste much coming from the caviar and think it’d look and taste better with an actual basil leaf (or even mint), freshly plucked and very hard to improve upon. Otherwise it was a fine dessert.

I do have a heavy skeptical eye towards dishes that try too hard to modernize or fancify by making things pretty but don’t bring any improvement in flavour. I’ve ragged on House Special before about leaning too much that way, but thankfully there wasn’t much sign of that on this visit. (There’s lots on the menu that we haven’t tried though, and their dumplings on Instagram look a bit too “pretty” 😛 but we’ll have to come back and see.)

Other complimentary test dessert: Durian on Sticky Rice. The durian was blended with coconut milk. Utter simplicity but everything you’d want it to be! Should be added to the menu now.

Name reminds me of someone…

My vegetarian sister is gonna love it. I think you might too.

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