A spiffy new Vietnamese restaurant called Thiên An opened in Capilano. I love Vietnamese food, and I love the fact that so many Edmontonians have access to family-run outlets that trade in the stuff. But it’s necessary to accept that neighbourhood places charge a little more for a little bit less than what you get at Edmonton’s foundational noodle houses in Chinatown—the gold standard to my way of thinking.
Maybe you’re one of those people who is glad to pay extra for a place with something resembling interior decor, clean bathrooms and recently maintenanced on-table condiments, furniture not reclaimed from a defunct office, etc. In that case, Thiên An is definitely for you—so brand spanking new that their service counter is still festooned with fresh-looking bouquets saluting their launch. The paint, flooring, checkerboard ceiling panels and immaculate bathrooms could not be fresher. Best of all, the house sound system pipes in string-drenched retro elevator music, which transported me back to my earliest Vietnamese dining experiences.
If the food isn’t Chinatown authentic, Thiên An is far above what I’ve experienced in cities less blessed than ours, and has enough novel dishes that patrons of the near-by Pho & Bun should give it a look. One such dish, perhaps the best of the things I sampled, is the Nam Vang soup ($13). It’s a Vietnamese take on Cambodian food made with porky broth swimming with noodles of the rice and egg variety, orts of seafood (squid, shrimp), whole hardboiled quail eggs, flecks of pork, and lots of carmelized shallot, green onion and garlic. A bit richer than phởo, nam vang has a toothsome sweetness about it, and the variety al dente seafood bits and other ingredients are uniquely satisfying.
I also tried the barbecue beef shortrib special plate ($15), which was heavy on the eponymous item, with a mound of rice and a bit of garden salad alongside—probably a better dish for sharing than taking on single-handed. Co-diner and I split the mini appetizer plate ($9.50)—a super-flaky springroll, a packed shrimp-and-pork salad roll, four chunks of shrimp cake and a “torpedo” shrimp spring roll containing a big shrimp and what appeared to be cream cheese. The shrimp cake, made from ground shrimp, was the only real novelty, but the rest passed muster.
The next day I went back for lunch. While the prospect of banh mi (a Vietnamese sub) certainly sounded appealing, I felt duty-bound to test the vermicelli, that miraculous meal-in-a-bowl that makes Vietnamese food so convenient for the solo diner. I usually like my vermicelli to contain grilled pork and spring rolls, which Thiên An was able to furnish for $13.50—as noted, a bit above the going rate in Chinatown.
It was not the best vermicelli I’ve ever had, but it was served in a gleaming white porcelain bowl that had scarcely seen use. And it was entirely fine—the thin grilled pork slices were remarkably tender and the rice noodles—slightly thicker and, to my chopsticks, slipperier than standard—came topped with lots of carrot and cucumber matchsticks, green onion, sprouts and chopped peanuts, plus another one of those super-flaky spring rolls. Sure, a heartier version with shredded pork and fresh herbs can be had cheaper in other, less esthetically splendid locations, but this was no disappointment. A more fitting description of Thiên An would be hard to come by.Thiên An 7304 101 Avenue NW Phone number(780) 756-7304