Dat Aliis Vietnamese

Dat Aliis's classic báhn mí

Dat Aliis brings fresh Vietnamese fare to an evolving corner of Little Italy

The restaurant is named after its founders’ hometown and a Vietnamese expression that speaks to ideas of pleasure and freshness.

Little Italy newcomer Dat Aliis brings fresh Vietnamese fare to a rapidly evolving stretch of Beaubien Est. The cantine, a project dreamed up by mother-son principles Nguyen Hong Hoa and Quang Trong, was brought to fruition thanks to business partner, first-time restaurateur and marketing whiz Elie Brisebois. Dat Aliis is named, in part, after Trong and Hong Noa’s hometown of Dalat but references a Vietnamese expression that speaks to ideas of pleasure and freshness — concepts central to Dat Aliis’s identity. 

My interpretation of Dat Aliis is that it’s attempting a slight recontextualization of Vietnamese food by cleverly “rebranding it” as healthy food — which, by the nature of Vietnamese cuisine, is already built-in. Other successful healthy-fast-food companies like Foodchain and Mandy’s have created a niche and it looks as though Dat Aliis is aiming to carve out a piece of the pie. 

Ask anyone who has visited Vietnam and they’ll tell you how incredible the food is. I often think about sitting curbside in Hanoi happily slurping up a bowl of bùn chả overflowing with fresh herbs. Part of the allure of Vietnamese cuisine is the spate of makeshift kitchens set up on the street, which harness the power of charcoal, steam and incredibly fresh produce and make some of the most complex and deeply flavourful dishes I have ever tasted. 

Dat Aliis Vietnamese
Salad with grilled shrimp

Here’s my issue with Dat Aliis — it comes across as overly reserved. Montreal has plenty of Vietnamese restaurants, but by and large, they specialize in phở. We’ve begun to see a push for regionally specific cooking from young Chinese cooks, and recently in Thai restaurants thanks to chefs like Pamika Sukla, Chita Phonmavongxay and Jesse Mulder. The cuisine of Vietnam is just about as diverse and regional as they come. I’ve been hoping to see a young Vietnamese chef give Vietnamese food that same regional treatment — I hoped Dat Aliis would lead the charge. But right now that’s not the case. 

Trong and Hong Noa’s menu is divided into four categories: Báhn Mí, bún, salad and spring rolls (gỏi cuốn), with three to four protein options in each. It’s a fairly standard fast-food format: pick your dish, pick your toppings. Personally, I would have loved to see a few more regionally specific options. Why not some bánh ướt lòng gà — one of Dalat’s most iconic dishes?

I recognize that my criticism isn’t entirely fair. It’s not up to Trong and Hong Noa to up-end the status quo and it’s clear to me that that’s not their objective, but I can’t help but think that it’s a missed opportunity. The food isn’t bad; in fact, the báhn mí I had was among the best I’ve tasted in the city. But the bún and the salads were, in my opinion, just okay. Clearly, the mother-son-duo can cook, which is why I make the suggestion that there’s a level of reservation involved — a reticence to cook boldly and unapologetically in service of adjusting your cooking to suit the palate of your perceived clientele. 

Dat Aliis Vietnamese
Gỏi cuốn

Another success for Dat Aliis was the shrimp gỏi cuốn (fresh spring roll). Packed with herbs and meaty, flavourful shrimp, they were truly delicious and notably of good quality. But they too had a drawback. Dat Aliis, perhaps for convenience reasons, fills their rolls with the peanut sauce that typically comes on the side for dipping. While I appreciate the thought, the sauce does the roll two disservices: it makes the tender roll wetter than it needs to be, which would explain why mine started to fall apart; and it dominates the flavour of the roll. While a lesser roll might need the sauce to add flavour to their bland shrimp and iceberg lettuce, Dat Aliis’s gỏi cuốn is full of high-quality shrimp and herbs, and the sauce slightly obscures those flavours. Which is to say, the roll is great on its own — make the sauce optional. 

Ultimately, Dat Aliis leaves me torn. There’s this part of me that knows this place could be fantastic. And let me be clear, I’m not calling on them to become the fine dining hub of Vietnamese food in Montreal. I think the format’s casualness actually reflects the casualness of certain types of Vietnamese food. I just want to see the contents of the format — the food itself — be pushed a bit further than lemongrass chicken on a bed of spring mix. On the other hand, maybe they’ve carved out a niche: healthy, approachable food that works to bring Vietnamese flavours to the fore. Being authentic (for lack of a better term) and also crowd-pleasing can be a difficult balance to strike, but focusing on making the food exceptional and letting customers’ palates catch up seems to be a model that works. Good food speaks for itself. My hope is to see Dat Aliis, which is still a fledgling business, develop into the restaurant I know it can be. For now, it’s the home of a very tasty báhn mí, and on that basis alone is worth a visit. ■

Dat Aliis is located at 322 Beaubien E. and is available through delivery apps Uber Eats and Skip the Dishes. For more information please visit their Facebook page.

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