Nancy Le and Yen Do have been friends for more than 20 years.
Le was introduced to Do by her mother and used to visit Do at a catering company where she worked, according to Le.
Do has worked in the industry since her 20s. "All my family are in the food business," she says.
Their friendship and Do's prowess with the culinary arts grew over the years, finally culminating in Broken Rice - a Vietnamese restaurant that opened in the Heights at 4088 Hastings St. five weeks ago.
Do, who has two other restaurants in Vancouver and Richmond, partnered with Le to open the new eatery after Le lost her job as a dental assistant.
"She wanted to have a restaurant, but she cannot do it by herself, so I said, 'OK, I can help,'" Do says. "We decided to open together."
Le lives in the neighbourhood and picked the spot.
She also chose the décor - dark, ornate teak tables and chairs in a fine dining setting.
It is an unusual set up for local Vietnamese restaurants, which tend to be more casual, Do says, but the duo preferred to go with a slightly Westernized dining atmosphere to showcase their traditional Vietnamese cuisine.
Le brings out the restaurant's signature green papaya salad - fresh prawns atop a bed of shredded green papaya with a light, tangy dressing.
The dish, which Do also makes at her Vancouver restaurant, Green Lemongrass, is a favourite of federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, she tells us.
Next out is clay pot chicken on a bed of rice. The dish has an complex array of subtle flavours, in part due to the special edible yellow lilies imported from Vietnam, Do says.
Uncle Hing's Chicken Wings are quick to follow, crispy and hot with a light coating of sweet, hot sauce.
The wings are a creation of Do's brother, Hing, and were put on the menu at the request of her son, she says.
The cuisine is from all different areas of Vietnam, with most of it from the southern part of the country, according to Do.
The culinary influence of the French occupation of Vietnam is very evident, particularly in dishes such as frogs' legs, Do points out.
Le brings out the next course - shaken beef and tomato rice.
The tenderloin in the shaken beef dish is tender and moist, its flavours mingling perfectly with those of the rice.
Le joins us at the table to discuss her role at Broken Rice.
"I like to enjoy food," Le says. "I like to go to Western restaurants, and I want to adopt their way of plating. So we can combine ideas. More experience from Yen and the look, my part."
Le considers Do her mentor, she says. "She's a very good business woman," Le says.
The final dishes presented are an avocado shake, made with condensed milk, and the restaurant's garden parfait, invented by Do's son.
A scoop of vanilla ice cream sits on a bed of cookie crumbs, surrounded by diced dragonfruit and kiwi and other fruits. It is also adorned with micro greens, including delicate pink flowers and tiny carrots.
The flavours are layered - sweet vanilla and cookie with the snap of kiwi, complemented by the gentle microgreens.
"We're launching something very different," Le says of the restaurant.
The two friends hope people will give Broken Rice - with its combination of Western look and Vietnamese food - a try, Le says.
"The local neighbourhood people are very good, very supportive," Do adds.
For more information on Broken Rice - named for a traditional Vietnamese working class dish with a unique flavour and texture - go to www.brokenrice.ca.