Calgary is fortunate to have some of the best, authentic Vietnamese restaurants in Canada, with no shortage of places to choose from if you’re looking to satisfy your cravings for a quick Pho Dac Biet. But what if you’re looking for something different? Located two doors down from Khao San Thai Kitchen on 17th Ave, Watercress Express is a small, modern Vietnamese restaurant that opened its doors at the beginning of this year and is anything but your classic Pho shop.
Seeing as it was at the top of ‘Talk of the Town’ on Urbanspoon, I figured it’d be worth a try with my parents. The first thing you’ll notice as you walk in is that Watercress is not set up like a typical sit down and order restaurant; it is more similar to a cafeteria or fast food joint where you order and pay first, and then they bring your food out to you when it’s ready. The decor is simple but modern, with Bamboo lining the walls while hard metal chairs and benches that seemed more appropriate for a patio filled the restaurant.
Large screens above the main counter display the menu of appetizers, subs, rice/vermicelli, and soups with modern twists on classic Vietnamese (and non-Vietnamese) dishes. Although there were only 5 or 6 items in each category, I was still struggling to make my choice as I wanted to try so many things. We each ended up picking a dish to share, and the owner/chef even asked if we wanted sharing plates before our dishes came out.
The first dish to come out was the Kimchi Fried Rice that I ordered, which looked incredibly appetizing and certainly not presented in a way that you would expect from a $10 dish at a Vietnamese restaurant. The Kimchi was very flavourful and not too spicy; my mother was able to enjoy this dish without any trouble, despite usually not being great with spicy foods. The gochujang (hot pepper paste) adds a sweetness to this dish characteristic of Asian cuisine, giving it that sweet savoury taste. The egg completed this dish for me, as I love my broken egg yolk.
My mother picked the Surf & Turf Vermicelli, which was the Chef’s Feature for this week. The beef and chicken were very juicy and savoury, more so than you would find in a more traditional Bún. The nuoc mam (mixed fish sauce) was very well done, and the presentation was once again top notch.
The last dish to come was the Korean Kalbi Beef Chuck Bao, as selected by my father. It was amazing. We had some troubles trying to split the thing into 3 portions, but when there’s a will there’s a way. The medley of kimchi, green apple, aioli, and tender beef smashed between two pieces of crispy milk mantou made for a delectable combination of flavours that flirts with heaven like it was no big deal.
The value you get from Watercress Express in terms of food quality and presentation is unparalleled for the price, and I overheard the other tables mention that they were also really surprised by how great everything was. The staff were friendly, the menu could use some help with typography (looking at you, comic sans), but above all else, the food was excellent. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Watercress Express and definitely want to come back to try some of their appetizers.
Update: Chef Lam Pham is no longer with Watercress Express, and therefore the menu and experience may differ.
1322 17 Ave SW – Calgary, AB