You may have felt gloomy, as I did, to learn that the Cam Kong restaurant was no more.
But there’s good news. A new couple has taken over this plain-Jane Somerset Street West restaurant and there are three reasons to be cheerful again.
First is the family. Ã‚n Tran and Tom Trinh are of Chinese (Cantonese) descent, but born and raised in Vietnam, and they are gracious and grinning hosts. Tom is mostly in the kitchen, but he will come out to explain a dish or talk fish or ask his wife to deliver a little taste of something he’s working on – tapioca, say, with plantain and a coconut custard sauce.
Second is the food, which is fresh, hot, fast and a very good blend of Vietnamese and Chinese cuisines.
Third is the prices, which are cheap.
Fuschian is, just as Cam Kong was, a little restaurant of about ten tables, spread across an L-shaped room of no particular appeal. Food pictures cling to the curiously opaque window; handwritten notes about the specials are tacked up there too. The neon “Open” sign seems constantly lit. (Though you will note Fuschian does in fact close on Tuesdays.)
The menu isn’t typical Vietnamese-style (that is, exhaustingly long and all dishes sounding like rather unexciting variations of each other). Fuschian’s menu is a two pager, boosted with a few daily specials outlined on the white board on the yellow walls. Usually there is fish – a filet of Vietnamese basa fish, say, in a green onion sauce on fragrant rice; or salmon in a black pepper sauce.
Both are excellent. Tom can cook fish. The product is clearly fresh and he has a quick, light touch. He also uses seasonal vegetables in his dishes. I was amazed to bob for al dente asparagus in my bowl of Thai soup, and there were those local spears again in a beef and asparagus stir fry.
There is much on this that you will know well. The salad rolls are classics, with tender shrimp, fresh greens and al dente vermicelli, brought to life with fresh mint. The steamed rice pastry rolls are slippery, gentle treats filled with ground pork, topped with fried onion and steamed bean sprouts. Sugar cane skewers sweeten the grilled sausages of minced-shrimp that cling to them.
A selection of the house appetizers on a $15 “sample platter” includes satay of beef and shrimp, spring rolls, vegetable rolls, shredded pork rolls and shrimp salad rolls, along with some greens and mint and pickled vegetables. Cheap good food for many.
You may have that sweetly skewered shrimp paste on a bed of vermicelli with ground peanuts and bean sprouts and a side of nuoc nam, or together with any number of other skewered, barbecued proteins – lemongrass chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, or meatballs, or deep fried spring rolls. Order four of any of those items on vermicelli for $9.75. You won’t be hungry for a week.
A variety of mushrooms add depth to many dishes – including the special rice (#505), which is a remarkably tasty mess of sticky rice, Chinese sausages, lightly cooked egg, Chinese shiitake mushrooms, dried shrimp and crushed peanuts. Or try the Vietnamese beef stew on offer: chunks of beef have a tenderness born of lengthy, gentle cooking.
There is pho of course (small, $6.75, large, $7.25) and there are other styles of soup – hot and sour, wonton, shrimp dumpling and racy Thai-style soups.
To drink, Vietnamese coffee, green tea, mint tea, three bean drink (an acquired taste, but I’m getting thereâ€¦), Perrier and smoothies. No liquor license (yetâ€¦)
To end? There are always special desserts on offer for under $2 – maybe some green tea ice cream with sweet azuki (red beans) or tapioca pearls with fried plantain, drizzled with a sweet coconut milk custard sauce and toasted sesame seeds.
My take? The new owners are very fine people doing a very fine job.