Exclusive Interview: House Special, Modern Vietnamese, Yaletown Vancouver 

It’s not very often I try both lunch and dinner at the same restaurant before writing an article. However, I was so impressed by lunch at  House Special and their team behind it that has 30 plus years of experience in refining their family recipes that I had to come back for dinner. Also, their dinner menu which consists of shared plates perfect for larger group gatherings, is quite different from lunch which is more of a solo endeavor. Lastly, when the chefs take time to carefully plate each dish so beautifully in Vietnamese cuisine, it deserves attention.

Victoria Do, Chef Yen Do, Chef Phong Vo, Chef Patrick Do

Chef Yen Do opened Pho Thai Hoa in 1986, Green Lemongrass in 2004, and Broken Rice in 2012. Patrick Do spent various periods of time in all of the kitchens growing up and Patrick’s sister, Victoria Do is the General Manager. Executive Chef is Phong Vo who had previously been with Heirloom and Electric Owl. Victoria came up with the name House Special way before they even found a location for their new restaurant. She said she was driving around Vancouver and saw the Vancouver Special homes. Then she thought to herself what is that one thing that defines a Vietnamese cuisine when you go into the restaurant. It is the House Special pho that has everything in it. Hence, the new name for the restaurant was born.

I tried almost the entire menu and enjoyed everything with one note -Uncle Hing’s chicken wings. It’s not recommended for those that can’t handle their food HOT. You can order it non-spicy, which I did for my kid, but it’s far tastier hot. My husband and father-in-law (who like their food spicy!) enjoyed them though. Underneath the wings are crumbled, deep-fried rice noodles that act as a layer of extra crispiness.

Family recipe spicy nước chấm free range chicken wings, originating from the remote village of Houston, Texas.

I like how simple this dish is but the sauces made it shine.

Panko fried soft-boiled egg on dried chili + tamarind jam and house aioli.

What I look for in the spring roll is how fresh the herbs and greens are that goes with it and if the spring rolls are burnt or too brown. The dipping sauce is also very important. 100 points here. Couldn’t find a single flaw in the hand picked greens and herbs. It looks like they meticulously checked every single piece that went on the plate.

Crispy shrimp and pork spring rolls served with nước chấm dipping sauce and a side of Vietnamese herbs.

I couldn’t put the salad roll down once I started dipping.

Grilled pork sausage, cucumber, vermicelli, fresh herbs, pickled shallots, wrapped in rice paper. Served with nước chấm.
The fry bread is incredibly unique with the duck confit filling. It’s perfect with a bowl of pho for lunch.

Q:What was the inspiration to create the frybread?

A: Patrick: “The stuffed sesame frybread is something I’ve wanted to do for some time now. In Vietnam, Banh Tieu (fry bread) is a street food, and considered a sweet, sometimes served with Banh Bo. Being born in Canada, much of my exposure to sesame has come in the form of savory dishes, so the impetus to use the fry bread in a savory application has always made sense to me. We like to say that our Banh Tieu is a happy middle ground between a steamed bao and a banh mi!”

The broth makes the biggest difference in how the pho tastes. I always drink a sip of soup first before I start digging in. There is no doubt this is a recipe that has been refined to perfection over 39 years!!!

Q:Your pho is very tasty. What separates the pho at House Special from the pho at other Vietnamese restaurants?

A: Patrick: “Our broth is a recipe that has been refined over our family’s 30 plus years making pho. Our parents opened up Pho Thai Hoa in 1986 while our mother was pregnant with Victoria, and Vic and I grew up in the kitchens at Pho Thai Hoa and Green Lemongrass.”
This beautifully presented scallop tataki dish was everyone’s favourite tonight.

Seared scallops, citrus nước chấm, chives, fresh herbs, kalamansi, and cucumber ribbons.

I really like the Hi Phong squid (calamari)and I have a new way to enjoy it now with all the colourful ingredients and sauce.

Deep-fried drunken calamari, pickles, slaw.

The Saigon steak (New York steak) was a bit chewy for us but our daughter enjoyed it anyway. Hard to compare different cuts of the meat. Again, beautifully presented and the pho reduction sauce was a nice touch.

New York steak, caramelized nước chấm potato, pho reduction sauce, dressed pea tips.

The duck was one of my favourite dishes. It was juicy and tender and full of flavour. The tamarind sauce was a perfect match.

Tamarind Duck -Pan seared duck breast, roasted beat, Vietnamese pickles, red wine reduction.

The ribs were super juicy and tasty. Loved the greens with it. It tasted sweet and tangy and the greens had a vinaigrette flavour.

Crispy Ribs – Tamarind jam Twice-cooked crispy pork ribs, tamarind + dried chili jam, pickles

Q: Why is the dinner menu different from the lunch menu?

A: Patrick: “With House Special, we sought to create a dining experience akin to how locals customarily eat in Vietnam: quick, one-bowl meals in the morning to get the day going, and family-style share plates served with cold beer and spirits at night. Rather than offering single plates of rice or noodles, which can feel like solitary experiences, we wanted to introduce a social element to our dinner menu: dishes that are easy to share and enjoy together.”

Q:How would you describe which part of Vietnam your recipes come from? And which items on the menu are mom’s recipes?

A:Patrick: “Our family comes from southern Vietnam, so we take a lot from that region, but I like to think our recipes are influenced by our extended family scattered throughout North America. Our wings are an homage to our uncle Hing, who made us these awesome sweet and spicy chicken wings whenever we’d visit him in Houston, Texas.”

Q:What inspired the family to open House Special and what is your goal?

A: Patrick: “Our grandma had a banh mi shop in Texas that made the best buns, and our banh tieu recipe is derived from hers. Our uncle Ly currently owns and operates a Cajun crawfish restaurant. Over the years, our uncles and aunts have opened various Vietnamese noodle houses, Chinese restaurants, Japanese restaurants, and bakeries across North America. Whenever we’d visit them, the first thing they’d do is sit us down and make us the specialty of the house. So we were inspired to do something that paid tribute to that rich lineage of culinary endeavor.”

Q: We are always curious where chefs eat after a long way at work. Where do you go eat? What are some of your favourite restaurants? 

A: Patrick “McDonalds is usually the only thing still open when we get off work. Ten piece nuggets and a junior chicken! Victoria really likes Ajisai in Kerrisdale.”

Q:How did you come up with the dishes on the menu?

A: Patrick: “All of the dishes on the menu were a collaborative effort between myself, Victoria, Yen, and Phong Vo, our executive chef. Many recipes were inspired by dishes I loved growing up.”

I hope you enjoyed this amazing chapter of a long family history in the restaurant industry refining and reinventing themselves every step of the way. I love change and I think it is important for growth and new opportunities. I wish the family success with the new restaurant in Yaletown.

To make a reservation: http://www.housespecial.ca

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