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Kol3 Review

I’ve always thought that Calgary had a pretty decent Vietnamese food scene, but one of my friends constantly laments the lack of places that serve “real” Vietnamese food (presumably, stuff that she gets at home).  No doubt, while there is a pretty good variety of bun, pho, and Viet sub places around the city, you won’t find many places in the city that explore the many uniquely Vietnamese dishes outside of these mainstays.  Kol3, just behind the Kensington Wine Market on 12th St., looks to kick the trend and carve out its own niche by specializing in banh xeo, a savoury Vietnamese crepe.

Subtly flavoured lemongrass soda - dry indeed

Kol3 greets you with a clean, friendly and simple interior, with bright colours and hand-written menus on the wall.  Banh xeo features prominently as the main style of dish on their menu, though they do also offer a few appetizers and desserts, as well as pho.  Though they have the “traditional” banh xeo (with pork, sprouts and shrimp filling), they also offer a variety of fusion-flavoured fillings such as basa fish, “breakfast” (eggs and bacon), and bacon cheeseburger.  Their soda selection is also quite interesting, with lemongrass, rhubarb, blood orange, and lavender sodas being among those that you can choose (though they seem to be light on the calories – read, sugar – which may or may not be down your alley).

We decided to start with the ginger wings to start, which turned out to be an awesome choice.  Seasoned with chilli, ginger, and green onions, they were juicy, meaty, and damn good (though they work out to cost ~$1.10 per wing so they aren’t cheap – still worth it though).  Soon after we mopped up the wings, the banh xeo came out.

Vegetarian banh xeo with tofu

“I can’t believe how big this is!” (That’s what she said –Kiran)  The crepes were definitely generously sized (or at least plated to appear so).  All the dishes came with mesclun salad and fish sauce on the side, save Kiran’s (which came with “Vegetarian sauce”, NOT fish sauce, the server adamantly clarified).  As I had ordered the bacon cheeseburger banh xeo, mine also came with ketchup (of course).  The salad was crisp, fresh and went well with my meal, though some of the others thought it was an odd pairing.  The banh xeo itself was as tasty as it looked – crispy exterior and with a good mix of ingredients on the inside (mine came loaded with pickles, onions, tomatoes, bacon, cheese and ground beef).

The service was good (though there aren’t very many tables in the venue so that shouldn’t be hard), and they didn’t mind us lingering at our table long after we finished eating.  How many places have a waitress who will take the time to chat with you on the finer points of sci-fi television? (I think she was a bigger geek than any of us).  Apparently they are also looking to get a liquor licence/bar soon, though it seems like that has been the case for some time.

Kiran’s Thoughts:

Vietnamese coffee - the equivalent of 4 shots of espresso and half a cup of condensed milk to kick your ass

The interior space has a bright, airy feeling to it, no doubt helped by the large wall-to-ceiling windows that let plenty of natural light in. It is complimented by the bright, neon coloured furniture, as well as the two-tone neon green/white paint. All in all, Kol3 has a contemporary feel to it that reminds me of “Japanese.” What specific aspects of Japan the interior reminds of isn’t clear, but I will leave that up to the readers.

As usual, like any good Vietnamese/Southeast Asian cuisine joint, Kol3 had the standard single vegetarian crepe option (with vegetarian fish sauce) and nothing else. Our server didn’t know what was exactly vegetarian about the vegetarian fish sauce, except that it was and that worked for me.

My crepe was crispy but moist and was filled with tofu, bean sprouts, spinach, and onions. It also came with a mint and arugula salad on the side. The salad had no real function IMHO, except to serve as a palate cleanser and to add $$ value to the plate. That said, every component of the salad and the crepe were fresh and that greatly enhanced the taste. The “fish sauce” added a very tangy finish to every bite, and without it, my crepe would have been fairly bland.

To be honest, my favourite part of the menu was the delicious Vietnamese coffee. It wasn’t the drip-style Vietnamese coffee in a strictest sense of the category, but it had the 4 shots of espresso and a generous helping of condensed milk. It was a strong and bold yet balanced in its acidity. The finish wasn’t astringent and the bitterness wasn’t overpowering. A word of caution though: I was up until 3 am that night and was the most productive I have been in a long time.

Kol3 is a great addition to the Calgary crepe scene. Everybody gets excited about French crepes, but they don’t realize that Indians (and Vietnamese) have had crepes on their collective menus longer than the French have been around (though who knows, maybe banh xeo was inspired by the French like several other Viet dishes? -Richard), so it’s great that Kol3 is trying to highlight other aspects of SEA cuisine.

Kent’s 2-Cents:

These wings ain't cheap, but they whoop the llama's ass

Short and sweet – I really enjoyed Kol3. Its a place I’ll be visiting again to try out the other variations of the banh xeo. The restaurant itself is clean, modern, and reminiscent of an Apple store. Kol3 isn’t really going for the authentic Vietnamese theme in either food or decor, but they have some really good ideas without taking too much away from the original crepe. Pro tip – Nuac mam (fish sauce) is pretty much impossible to screw up, and it makes anything taste good.

Summary

Hands down the best banh xeo place that I have ever been to!  Though, it’s also the ONLY banh xeo place that I’ve been to.  All in all, it was an enjoyable experience and one that I’m looking forward to having again.

-Richard

Rating:

  Richard Kiran Kent
Ambiance 5/6 5/6 5/6
Service 5/6 5/6 5.5/6
Plating 5.5/6 4.5/6 4.5/6
Taste 5/6 4/6 5/6
Originality 5.5/6 5/6 6/6
Value 4/6 4.5/6 4.5/6
Overall 30/36 = 83% 28/36 = 78% 30.5/36 = 85%

Kol3 on Urbanspoon

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2 responses to “Kol3 Review

  1. Song May 5, 2011 at 15:23

    Kent, I would say nuoc mam is very definitely easy to mess up if you are new to it what with different levels of saltiness in different brands and trying to make the proper portions for the amount of food you plan on eating. i.e. *Follows recipe*,”This recipe is too salty”, *adds water*, “not quite enough lemon”, *adds lemon*, “oh no too lemony” *adds water*, “hmmm not enough salt” — and the next thing you know you have a litre of fish sauce when you only want 2 servings….

    I’ve learnt that the best way to make it in whatever portion sizes you need is to make a jug of lemonade first (sugar, lemon/lime, water all to taste; make it something you enjoy drinking) and then pour some of that lemonade into a separate bowl to convert it to nuoc mam. Then you add the fish sauce to the lemonade until it is salty enough (taste as you go!). You always end up with the right amount of fish sauce and any left over lemonade can be enjoyed on its own or converted at a later date.

    Great review though I’ve been meaning to check them out for a while :)

    • kenter May 6, 2011 at 07:48

      You’re right. Maybe I am slightly biased because its in my genes. I like the lemonade tip!

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