I actually sat on this review for hmmmm…. a couple of months? Simply because now that my words are actually being read, I feel some responsibility to distance myself a bit from the immediacy of the experience in the interest of being as fair as can be, while only visiting a place once. Not much responsibility mind you, but some. Point is, I had a very mediocre dinner with a friend here, and am unlikely to return simply because my budget does not run to revisiting restaurants that don’t rock my world.
Without further ado – there was still snow around when a girlfriend and I drove here one dark night and found a well lit restaurant with an appealing concept – Vietnamese fusion. I love me some Vietnamese food with a loving love, so I was convinced that there’s a way to take those flavors we all know and love and mix them in novel ways for our enjoyment. I also read plenty of innovative chefs doing crazy things with Vietnamese food so I was really excited about the trip.
The restaurant was pretty nice – gorgeous curved ceiling over the bar, very well done lighting, elegant woven mats and upscale place settings. All the staff was beyond friendly and knowledgeable when discussing the menu. I was steered toward the caramelized chicken and my friend was determined to try the savoury crepe (stuffed with prawns, mung beans, hickama(?), bean sprouts and green onion). The first alarm bells went off at the spelling of jicama – while pronounced hickama it’s certainly not spelled that way, and someone should’ve looked at the menu before printing it out.
We started out with two appetizers, the spring rolls (simply because I couldn’t picture giving them up for all the fusion in the world), and coquilles St. Jacques provencale – a French twist on a French dish, I suppose. The spring rolls were on the thin side, and were quite passable, although certainly no better than the spring rolls in our favorite Vietnamese joint. The coquilles St. Jacques rated about a 4/5. The scallops were cooked perfectly, so kudos to the kitchen there, and the sauce was lovely if uninspiring, but it was not the best sauce for the dish. Somehow the basil and the smoky-ness didn’t go with the flavor of the scallops and I hardly cook scallops, so I can’t suggest how I’d do it. Lemony cream sauce probably….
Moving on. We got our entrees and that’s where things derailed for us. My friends crepe was huge and absolutely flavorless. If you look at the list of veggies again, mung beans, jicama, sprouts, you’ll likely guess that they need a pretty strong flavor base somewhere to balance them out. And it was utterly lacking. No salt, garlic, sauce or anything to enliven the bland, watery mess of a dish, whose only hint of a redeeming quality was the crispy outside. The dipping sauce provided was too watery to make any difference, and rolled off the veggies leaving a faint sweet flavor in its path. After picking at all the outside crispy bits, she ate all the prawns and called it a night.
My caramelized chicken was not much better. It was a rather dry breast with a poorly balanced caramelized sauce with too many bitter flavors. It was served on veggies without a hint of seasoning and a mound of plain white rice. Since the only flavors were from the chicken, namely salty, sweet and burnt, the dish was not a satisfying entrée. The meat had too much flavor and the rest had none.
On that note we declined dessert and decided that while fusion cuisine is excellent when done well, it is a poor substitute for the primal satisfaction of a real bowl of hot Vietnamese soup or noodles when done poorly. Given the rather high prices at the restaurant we expected the quality to match. In our experience – it did not.
And if you’re wondering, see my restaurant rating scale here.
Colonial Fusion Cuisine
163 Quarry Park Blvd. SE