Fort McMurray Food Fight
Sweet Basil Vietnamese Cuisine
PART OF THE JOY OF LIVING in a region that experiences such rapid growth and change is seeing new restaurants, and new restaurant ideas come to town. Since I began this column, over a half a dozen new places have opened their doors to delight our taste buds and entertain our appetites. On a very rare occasion, an entirely new cuisine comes to Fort McMurray, so it was with great delight that I heard of the opening of a new Vietnamese restaurant called Sweet Basil Vietnamese Cuisine, located in Gregoire where The Islander used to be (or Stroudy’s Pub for the old-timers). I have always tried to class restaurants close to each other to ensure that there is a fair food fight, but with this new class of cuisine opening up, this installment of Fort McMurray Food Fight warranted a solo review.
Soup: A staple of Vietnamese cuisine is a hearty noodle soup in a rich flavourful broth, often served with meatballs or thinly sliced beef added to the soup. It is called Pho. When word of Sweet Basil trickled out on social media, excitement was mixed with apprehension as Pho is a dish that has to be done right. I am pleased to say that Sweet Basil makes beautiful Pho. The broth is complex and meaty with aromas of anise, pepper, and lemongrass that waft up from the giant bowl as the thinly shaved beef continues to cook before one’s very eyes. The soup is loaded with lovely rice noodles and is rounded out with sweet onions and herbs. Sweet Basil serves four different varieties of pho, my favourite being the simple “Noodle, Beef steak, and Brisket”. Pho is a meal in a bowl and at Sweet Basil it is phobulous!
Beyond making a meal of Pho, Sweet Basil has a number of dishes that can be combined for a family-style feast.
We began our meal with Vietnamese Spring Rolls and the classic Vietnamese Salad Rolls. Passionate about both appetizers, I was pleased to find that Sweet Basil served the spring rolls with a traditional sweet and complex sauce that brightened up the flavour profile; it was spot-on. After sampling this light sauce, plum sauce dip will quickly become a culinary pariah. The salad rolls were visually stunning and authentic.
We ordered Rice Noodle with Lemongrass and Chicken which was delightful. The chicken with rice noodles popped with flavours of lemon grass and citrus with a fresh flavour that reminded me of summer. This was rounded out with Beef Sate that was served sizzling hot with complex and tantalizing aromas wafting off the plate. There was a lovely chili flavour to this dish with a notable heat that was complimentary and not overpowering.
By far, my favourite family-style dish was their Rice with Grilled Pork Chop and Egg. The dish is served with each component whole on the serving plate and one must mix it together before serving. The pork is cooked to perfection, juicy and meaty, while the steamed rice, cucumber salad, tomatoes and eggs mix together for a fresh and fascinating textural harmony that had us scraping the last morsel off the plate.
Rounding out the meal, my friend ordered a Vietnamese Coffee. This specialty coffee has to be ordered at the beginning of the meal as it is a slow and laborious concoction of sweet milk, coffee, and time. The coffee was beautiful, sweet, and strong, exactly as it should be. While I wouldn’t suggest having it immediately before bed, it makes for a lovely after-meal drink if one doesn’t mind being up for a while.
At the time of the writing this article, Sweet Basil is so new they don’t even have a sign up. I spoke with their Chef, who cut his teeth in Vietnamese restaurants in Vancouver and Edmonton, and he tells me they plan to continue to refine the menu and offer even more authentic Vietnamese options, as well as venturing into some Filipino dishes. This pleases me greatly. Sweet Basil Vietnamese Cuisine is a solid and welcome addition to the Fort McMurray food culture. Put simply, go forth and eat here!