1778 Hwy 97 South
Prince George, BC V2L 5L3
M-W: 11a – 9p/Th-Sa: 11a – 10p/Su & Holidays: 4p – 9p
September 3, 2011
In the seven years since we’ve moved up here, this past Labour Day was the first long-weekend *ever* that we’re not driving down to the Coast. Kinda blows the mind how much driving we do! However, that being said we still needed to go back-to-school clothes shopping for Mr O, so we decided to make a drive up to Prince George and make a daytrip out of it.
Although not as long of a drive as it is driving into Vancouver, it’s still a bit of distance and by the time we were within the city limits of Prince George, I was more than ready for some lunch. Situated along the highway on the right-hand side as you’re driving into the city, next to the Four Points by Sheraton hotel, is the Thanh Vu Restaurant. Now that’s not a name you’d see every day in Williams Lake! It serves Vietnamese cuisine (coincidentally something I’ve been craving for awhile now.)
We get there after the lunch rush but there were still quite a few tables occupied. We were seated in a booth, which was separated by glass partitions so you can clearly see over your companion’s shoulder who is sitting in the next booth. A bit awkward but then you learn to keep eye contact with those you’re sitting with.
The menu is a little overwhelming at first because there’s just so much STUFF on it. Plus you have adjust to reading the English menu after the preceding Vietnamese words. There are lots of different types of rolls and soups to choose from, and the main dishes are broken down into meat categories, which include: beef, chicken, pork, seafood and tofu. Because of its geographical proximity, Vietnamese cuisine has a lot of influence from Chinese, Indian, Thai and French cuisines (it being a former French colony and all). So it’s not surprising to find wonton soups next to the curries next to the baguettes! Today, Mr O ordered a Vietnamese iced coffee and the Chicken Lemon Grass, and I ordered the Spring Rolls with rice noodles.
Soft Vietnamese music floated in the background as we waited for our food, and strings of Vietnamese conversation could be heard from the kitchen staff every time that door was swung open. On one of these occasions the waitress brought over Mr O’s coffee. Iced coffee is a highly favoured beverage amongst the Vietnamese. The espresso-strength coffee grinds are pressed into this metal contraption which sits over a glass and hot water is poured in to start to brewing process. At the bottom of the glass is a layer of sweetened condensed milk, probably about half an inch thick, and it’s neat to watch the black coffee slowly drip onto the creamy surface. And I’m not kidding about the slow part… it’s not unheard of for the coffee to be finally finished dripping just as you’re finishing up your meal.
Soon after, our food arrives. Mr O’s chicken was nothing like the grilled lemon grass version we were accustomed to eating down south. The version here is more akin to a light curry, infused with coconut milk, lemon grass and chili peppers. The chicken breast is sliced and there is a generous amount of it in the dish, along with sliced onions and scallions. The coconut actually went really well with the lemon grass, and the curry and chilli peppers did not overwhelm the dish at all. It’s accompanied by a large bowl of rice which soaks up the sauce beautifully.
A Vietnamese spring roll is different from a Chinese one in that there are hardly any vegetables in it. It’s made up mostly of ground pork, which is normally mixed with cellophane noodles, wood-ear mushrooms, grated carrots, egg and various spices. And the truly authentic stuff is wrapped with rice paper instead of a wheat-based wrapper. It’s more of a pain to prepare this way, but by using the rice paper the rice content puffs up nicely in the hot oil when it’s deep-fried which gives it a lighter and crispier exterior.
These spring rolls are one of the best I’ve ever had (not including Momma’s of course!) and I love to drown them in the ‘nuoc mam’, which is a sweet and salty concoction made of water, vinegar, sugar and fish sauce. Yes, I said it… fish sauce… fermented fish extract. Scrunching your faces is only gonna hurt my feelings so stop that, and I absolutely urge you to try it if the opportunity ever arises. I used to drown all my food in that stuff as a kid and I knew I wasn’t the only one doing that growing up!
So as I was saying, the spring rolls is served with a heaping pile of vermicelli rice noodles, which have been sprinkled over with pickled carrots and sliced scallions. Usually you’d find bean sprouts, slivered cucumber and chopped roasted nuts with the noodles too, but not today in Prince George. And did I pour some of my nuoc mam over my noodles? Oh you bet I did… I even had to ask the waitress for an extra bowl of the stuff!
We ate and ate until our bellies were stuffed and we still had leftovers. So we had our food packed away into a doggie bag and by around this point Mr O’s coffee was finally ready for us. The neatest part about the drink is when you swirl the condensed milk into the coffee and you watch the liquid go from pure black to a nice chocolaty colour. As kids my siblings and I used to always fight over who go to stir Poppa’s coffee. So naturally, Mr O let me do the honours today.
Once everything is mixed up nice, a glass full of ice is brought to you and the whole thing is poured right in. You’d think the milk and melted ice would mellow out the drink, but it’s still crazy strong and one sip is enough to coat the whole mouth; which is perfect if you happen to be eating something spicy, or just happen to crave caffeine like Mr O does.
We didn’t see any signs of a dessert menu, but that was fine because we were much too full for it anyways. Now we have a whole afternoon of shopping ahead of us to look forward to, which is always better when it’s done on a full stomach.