Sherman's Food Adventures: Hai Chi Em Modern Vietnamese

Hai Chi Em Modern Vietnamese

Remember when Vietnamese restaurants were usually a dive, often a converted old restaurant that was formerly an Italian or Greek restaurant?  Yes, those still exist, but we are seeing more and more modern Vietnamese spots open up with updated decor and expanded menus.  We still see the staples such as Pho and Salad Rolls, but we are also getting a taste of less known Vietnamese dishes as well as some fusion.  Of course this also means prices have crept up too in the process.  
One of the newest modern Vietnamese restaurants on the scene is Hai Chi Em on Fraser Street.

We decided to finally check it out early on a Friday so it wouldn't be too busy.  We were really shocked at the size of the Crispy Garlic Butter Wings.  They were all mid-wings and I would say they were at least a half-size bigger than any other wing I've had lately.  Being properly marinated, these were juicy and tender.  I found the skin to be properly rendered and crispy.  However, the size of the wings also meant that they flavours were more muted due to the amount of meat.  Hence, we needed quite a bit of the lemon pepper dip to have an effect and even with that, we could've used much more flavour.

Next, we tried the Crispy Lemongrass Salt & Pepper Tofu that looked very much like the butter wings (and the next dish as well).  We asked for no cilantro, hence the lack of colour in the dish.  I found the tofu to be rather firm and wished they had used something softer as it ate a bit dense.  I do understand it is easier to work with though as the softer tofu can break.  The batter was very crunchy and did have a good mouth-feel.  However, it was heavy as a result.  I personally would've liked to see a batter that was lighter.  In terms of flavour, I thought there was enough of it, but would've liked to see a stronger lemongrass presence.

One of my favourite dishes of the meal was the Deep Fried Squid served with a side of sauce that was highly addictive.  Similar to the tofu, the hard crunch from the batter was a nice contrast to the tender squid.  However, once again, I would prefer a lighter batter.  The star of the show was the side of sauce consisting of condensed milk, fish sauce and lime leaves.  This was so aromatic and sweet that I wanted to drink it.  It paired beautifully with the squid as it added plenty of punch while softening the hard batter.

We also had the Pomelo, Shrimp & Pork Salad with carrots, onions, peanuts, sesame seeds and shredded coconut flakes.  This was another favourite where the textures and flavours were on point.  There was no shortage of ingredients from the big chunks of citrusy pomelo to the meaty shrimp.  Lots of pork belly, but maybe being stone cold, the fat was a bit heavy.  Maybe would be better if the belly was sliced thinner?  Loved the acidity and sweetness of the salad as it did make things bright.

For our soup noodle, we chose to have the Bun Bo Hue with the pork knuckle and blood on the side.  Apparently I'm the only one that likes that?  I praise them for making a legit BBH as not many places offer pork knuckle and blood.  This was a good version of the soup noodle as the broth was flavourful and fragrant.  The spice level was just right too as I could still taste the soup.  I would've liked a brinier aroma with the broth, but it was still good nonetheless.  Noodles were plentiful and al dente while the meats were tender.  Especially loved the pork knuckle as the skin was gelatinized and the meat was moist.

Our last dish was the Crab Fried Rice with tobiko and mushroom.  Originally, it was supposed to have cilantro, but we asked for it be prepared without it.  That might affected the overall flavour profile of the dish.  Even with that, the rice was quite good with discernible grains where they were chewy and nutty.  They didn't skimp with the real crab as there was a big pieces of leg meat.  I would've preferred that they added egg to the rice to give it more body and varied texture though.  Possibly a bit more fish sauce would've elevated the caramelized flavours too.  Overall, the food at Hai Chi Em was good.  I feel that with a few tweaks, the food would be great.

The Good:
- Properly prepared proteins
- Fair portion sizes
- Nice people

The Bad:
- Food could use a bit more flavour (except for the crack sauce for the squid)
- Batter for the tofu and squid could be lighter


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