Dish

A Golden Bird told me about a great Vietnamese meal

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Edmonton’s bustling Chinatown, anchored along downtown’s 97
Street, is a fertile oasis of authentic Asian dining. With a smorgasbord of
Cantonese, Vietnamese, Thai and Korean cuisines, there are oodles of noodles
to choose from.

During Chinese New Year, these multifarious restaurants become the social
centres of the Asian communities. Though each venue has its own virtues, one
of my favourites is The Golden Bird, a small Vietnamese restaurant that is
centrally located and perpetually busy. Family-owned and operated, the Golden
Bird offers fantastic service and great food in the most basic of
environs.

My brother, his wife and I slid into worn chairs at one of the two remaining
tables last Saturday evening, thankful that we hadn’t arrived any later
than our prearranged 7 pm. I hadn’t been to the restaurant in a couple
of years, but little had changed. Fifteen glass-topped tables sat in the tiny
space, with chairs for two to eight people apiece. The walls’ lower
halves sported wood grain panelling; above hung a mish-mash of worn artwork
and dog-eared travel posters.

Restaurateur Chic Pham doesn’t need to update the décor. She,
her husband and their son (“Huang the super-server”) are kept
busy from morning to night serving the non-stop flow of patrons who have
discovered this gem of Vietnamese cuisine.

Huang brought menus along with a complimentary pot of green tea, then
graciously took our drink orders. My brother and his wife stuck with the tea,
but I asked for a glass of Sinh Tô (carrot juice $3.25).

“You had to ask for that”, Huang said with mock disdain.
Apparently it takes a fair number of carrots to create a glass of juice, but
he wandered off with an exaggerated sigh and I soon heard the sound of the
juicer grinding away.

All three of us enjoy squid, so we decided to start with an order of
tempura-battered calamari ($9.95). It was served crispy and hot on a simple
white plate. Small flakes of spicy red pepper clung to the batter, but the
overall flavour was sweet and pungent. A side of chili sauce was a pleasant
supplement to the delicate and tender pieces of squid.

I sipped from time to time on the carrot juice, which turned out to be more
of a creamy iced shake. Its sweetness wasn’t very suited to the peppery
appetizer, so I set it aside in favour of a swig of water.

While we enjoyed the calamari, the kitchen was busy preparing our
entrées. I opted for the charcoal-grilled satay chicken ($9.45),
served with spring rolls on vermicelli. My sister-in-law went for her usual,
the Five Star: five delicacies comingled in a heap upon a bed of white rice
($10.95). My brother, unwilling to tell us what he was ordering, waited until
we had handed back our menus before mysteriously placing his order by number,
then added extra satay (spice) for emphasis.

All three dishes arrived just as we pushed the empty appetizer plate to the
edge of the table. Our scent receptors were inundated with a massive influx
of flavour and aroma. My brother’s overflowing dish was by far the most
aggressive: his plate of crunchy vermicelli was topped with broccoli,
carrots, peppers, onions and cauliflower, then heaped with shrimp, squid,
chicken and pork ($14.95). I felt the fiery sauce in the back of my throat
from three feet away.

My sister-in-law’s Five Star consisted of shrimp, pork, beef, chicken
and spring rolls, served on a bed of rice with a side of fish sauce. She
promptly poured the bowl of sauce over the dish, bragging that she chose rice
over vermicelli so she could have the caramelized ginger they serve atop
their rice dishes.

My tender slices of charcoal chicken rested upon a bowl of cooked vermicelli,
next to bean sprouts and julienned carrots, which were then topped with
sliced green onions and peanuts. Two of Chic’s famous spring rolls sat
atop the mound and a side of fish sauce added flavour to the entire delicious
concoction.

We argued for each of our choices, but ultimately we were all winners. With
the possible exception of one piece of carrot that my brother claimed
“made his eyes bleed” we had all made great selections.

Sitting back and satiated, my sister-in-law decided to have a Vietnamese
coffee ($3.25). I would have joined her in ordering the icy sweet mocha
finisher, but I suspected that the late evening caffeine would keep me up for
hours. As we watched her coffee drip slowly into the glass of thick condensed
milk, we all reminisced about the numerous wonderful meals we have had in
Chinatown.

On Feb 18, I’ll be back downtown to celebrate the New Year with good
dim sum and great company. After all, it’s the year of the
pig—what better way to start it off than at the trough.
V

 

Mon – Sat to 9 pm
Golden Bird Restaurant
10544 – 97 Street
420.1612

 

?According to the traditional lunisolar calendar, Chinese New Year
begins on the first day of the first lunar month. This year Feb 18 marks the
beginning of the year of the pig—or, more accurately, the golden pig,
an event which only occurs once every 600 years. It is thought to fetch great
prosperity to children born in this auspicious year.

Legend has it that the first day of the new lunar calendar brings Nian, a
man-eating beast from the mountains, who threatens to slip into homes during
the night and devour the occupants. Sensitive to loud noises and bright
colours, Nian is frightened off by firecrackers and lion dances. It scurries
back to the hills and the community is saved.

Edmonton’s annual Firecracker Parade will be held on Sun, Feb 18 along
97 Street. Many Asian community groups participate in the celebrations, so
any restaurant in Chinatown is a great location from which to enjoy the
festivities of the Chinese New Year. V

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