Edmonton’s own Master Chef Canada Season 4 finalist Mai Nguyen hosted her first pop-up at Prairie Noodle a couple of weeks ago. Plates featured twists on Vietnamese classics and showcased Mai’s passion for food.
Prairie Noodle Shop once started out as a pop-up concept and since then has been a supporter of young cooks and chefs. Building a bigger and better food community is what drives this support, something that’s reflective in their summer menu, a collective of flavours and ideas from everybody in the kitchen.
Mai Nguyen is one of the talented in Prairie Noodle Shop’s kitchen, a Master Chef Canada Season 4 contestant and top four finalist. The health and safety advisor is now full-time in the noodle shop and focusing on her passion for food. Mid-July’s pop-up featured five courses and a cocktail for a ticket price of $75. The Vietnamese menu was a modernization of classic dishes and showcased some of the best plating I’ve seen yet.
Beef Carpaccio with fish sauce dressing, lime juice, garlic oil, garlic chips, herbs and veggies. Beef is one of Mai’s favourite ingredients to work with. The rare beef was perfectly sliced and layered, then cut into a perfect circle. I would recommend leaving the carpaccio unpressed so that each piece was easier to remove, but nevertheless, it went into my belly. The plate wasn’t shy on the fish sauce dressing, something most restaurants tend to do, and I absolutely loved it. It was bright, acidic, pungent, and deliciously herbal.
Crab, Shrimp, and Scallop Culetti with crab and lemongrass velouté. My +1 for the night had a shrimp allergy, so it was nice that the dishes were modified to accommodate her. The pasta was hand rolled and cut to form a beautiful culetti, inspired by Buca’s David Marcelli (Toronto). The stuffing was firm enough to hold on its own but not tightly packed and dense. I would have loved for more crab flavour, the crab and lemongrass sauce helpful, but perhaps a mixture of the three critters too muddled.
Pho Soup Dumplings with a basil and cilantro vinaigrette. The dumpling dough itself was not made from scratch and I don’t fault her for it. They’re difficult to make! By the time the soup dumplings made it to the table, they were a bit deflated and the filling had reabsorbed the soup. The bite was fantastic despite this, the aromas of pho still retained, and Mai’s use of herbs again had a place in the dish.
Nem Nuong with rice noodles, veggies, herbs, and ‘Nha Trang’ sauce. This was by far the largest dish of the night. Instead of the traditionally thin rice vermicelli, Mai opted for the thicker round rice noodles that are more commonly found in Bún bò Huế bowls. All the components seemed standard for the dish but it was the ‘Nha Trang’ sauce that stood out, a blend of spices and seafood flavours inspired by the coastal city. My only criticism for the dish: the noodles would have benefited from a light coating of oil to keep them from sticking to each other.
Flan with Vietnamese coffee granita and coconut tuile. Dessert was my favourite dish, moreso because it brought back fond childhood memories for me. As a treat, my grandmother would make this dessert in an aluminum tray and let me eat the whole thing, straight out of fridge. I’d drizzle the caramel sauce over top as I made my way down the tray, never once breaking my concentration from it. Mai’s dish was lighter and much more refined then my aluminum tray. The strong bitter notes of the coffee granita was rounded out by the flan’s richness and surprisingly worked well. I was expecting it to be sweeter with the use of sweetened condensed milk but I’m glad the dessert turned out the way it did.
I’m so excited to see what Mai Nguyen cooks up next and can’t wait for her next pop-up. I found all the dishes to be very well balanced, well seasoned and spiced, and right up my alley. Plating was spectacular, something I find easily overlooked in the average home cook. It’s nice to see Mai so detailed orientated. Follow @maicaroon on Instagram for more of her cooking projects and for her next pop-up!
Disclosure: I was invited to Mai Nguyen’s first pop-up at Prairie Noodle Shop as a guest. I was not expected to publish a post and all opinions are of my own.