When Matt and I finally had a free night with no plans except filling our bellies, it was time for a long-awaited dinner at Foreign Concept! Walking in to warm smells of ginger and garlic was a welcome feeling on the cold night we chose to visit. After being seated in a cozy corner and ordering some local Last Best beer (I won’t lie – I ordered a glass of prosecco as well), we got to work on negotiating our order.
This sharing-style menu is organized into small and large plates along with a selection of Asian-inspired charcuterie. The large plates included intriguing options like the Thai-style lobster broth or Alberta trout cha ca la vong, a Vietnamese fish dish spiked with dill and turmeric. For those of you thinking at this point that you’ll never convince your less adventurous loved ones to come try this place, you’ll be glad to hear that they also had a few items closer to the Western end of the fusion scale, like a soy and birch-glazed half chicken with carrots and potatoes or beef tenderloin fried rice.
Despite all the tempting large plates, there were just too many things we wanted to try from the small plates side of the menu – buckle up, because you’re about to see why.
The Albacore tuna carpaccio ($16) with crispy red onions, mint, Thai basil and a yuzu soy dashi (a Japanese-style stock) was plated beautifully. The slices of fish were thin, uniform and melted in my mouth. The salty soy overpowered the rest of the plate slightly and I would have liked it to be a bit lighter. Still, I really enjoyed this!
Next to come out was the butternut squash and green mango slaw ($13) with crispy beef jerky and Asian mustard dressing. This was so sweet, zesty, crisp and refreshing. Matt gets nervous when I order something too much like a salad during our shared meals, but he loved this almost as much as I did. The “crispy jerky” appeared to be something like rousong, or Chinese meat floss, which is a savoury treat much more delicious than it sounds and paired perfectly with mouthfuls of tangy slaw. There were so many great elements, but my favourite part of this creation was the bright mustard dressing that brought wasabi to mind (did you know wasabi and mustard plants are both part of the brassica family?) and provided a great balance with the heavier dishes at the table.
Speaking of heavier dishes, the next thing to come out was the miso-baked Poplar Bluff potatoes ($11) with Quebec cheese curds and scallions! The miso seasoning highlighted the umami and sweetness of the potatoes while providing a mind-blowing pairing with the melted curds and fresh scallions. Those potatoes were cooked perfectly – crispy on the outside, pillowy soft on the inside. Don’t write this off as just a dish for the less adventurous in your party – this one is so good that everyone at the table will wish they could lick the (scorching hot) skillet.
Our server specifically recommended the soy garlic caramel roasted eggplant ($10) with sugar snap peas and Szechuan pepper and it ended up being one of Matt’s favourites. The eggplant medallions soaked up a ton of sticky sauce, the split pea pods and lettuces kept it fresh and the spicy Szechuan pepper was used with a light hand to perfectly round out what might have otherwise been too sweet a dish. These were satisfying, juicy bites that we will definitely be ordering again next time!
The star of the show was the bulgogi imperial roll ($12). Bulgogi is as fun to say as it is to eat, as it’s often served as strips of sizzling marinated meat in a build-your-own lettuce wrap along with Korean condiments like spicy pickled/fermented vegetables (kimchi) and chili paste (gochujang). This dish was a great play on that concept, with the finely-ground beef bulgogi served in fried, sliced egg rolls along with sturdy romaine lettuce, daikon (white radish) kimchi and sweet, spicy gochujang.
Everything kept its shape well and we agreed that with the added crunch from the fried rolls was reminiscent of a taco. My mouth is watering just thinking about it weeks later. The only thing I would do differently next time is order two of these so we don’t have to share.
If you thought we wouldn’t have room for dessert after all that, you’d be wrong. We ordered the passion fruit mango cheesecake ($10). The cheesecake was soft, tangy and crowned in a layer of sweet mango and passionfruit. It was accompanied by a scoop of coconut ice cream and topped with fresh berries and mini meringues. So many of my favourite things in one bite! The coconut ice cream had more of that icy sorbet texture, so it made for a refreshing break between bites of the rich dessert.
Foreign Concept (1011 1st Street SW) offers pan-Asian dishes with a focus on locally-sourced ingredients and modern cooking techniques, elevating traditional dishes and flavours with ambitious ideas. Combine that intriguing food concept with their shared plates, casual vibe, chic decor and the friendly service and you have a restaurant worth all the hype. We saw and would highly recommend this place for early dates, big groups of friends and families celebrating special occasions. Not that I would ever be so rude as to eavesdrop, but I loved overhearing the awkward date at the table next to us using this unique food as an icebreaker. And what better way to test compatibility with someone than to see how nicely they’ll share a plate of bulgogi rolls? (Spoiler alert, I’d fail for sure!)