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An Upcoming Vietnamese Spot Wants to Bring People Together in a Buzzy Atmosphere

An Choi is making its way to Plaza St-Hubert, likely in spring 2022

bowl of noodles with herbs, shrimp and pork, against black background Michelle Vo/Supplied

The influx of compelling new food and drink options on the now-renovated Plaza St-Hubert shows no sign of abating in 2022: Yet another spot, a day-to-night Vietnamese haunt called An Choi, is poised to drop next spring.

The new restaurant comes from Michelle Vo, the creator of Pasthyme, a ghost kitchen that dishes (frequently sold-out) heaping bowls of Vietnamese noodle soups on a weekly basis.

“I want this place to become a destination that people think about going to to really have some fun,” Vo say of An Choi. She points to spots like bustling Plateau seafood den Le Majestique, Little Italy wine bar Vin Mon Lapin, and Westmount’s snazzy Café Gentile as inspirations. They’re among her favourite destinations in the city for an evening hangout that feels happening but not grandiose — and they also leave her asking herself: “Where are all the Southeast Asian spots that fall into this category?”

An Choi, a major evolution from her current online-only, part-time outfit, is her answer to that question, and its name drives the message home. “An Choi” — likely to be pronounced by French speakers as “anchois” (the French word for “anchovy”), which happens to be a key ingredient in fermented Vietnamese fish sauces — roughly translates to “eat and have fun,” something Vo’s mother has accused her of doing a little too much of in the past.

“I partied a lot. I was maybe the rebellious child, and my mom often told me, ‘You like to enjoy, to an choi,’” Vo says. So, apart from summing up the mandate for her new venture, the name doubles (or triples, if you count the “anchovy” echo) as an homage to the woman who taught her how to cook and with whom she started Pasthyme.

“This was something that my mom and I have been doing together, and without her this project would have never happened. I would have never signed a commercial lease without her,” says Vo. “And, I definitely didn’t learn how to cook from a TV show.”

Anyone keeping tabs on Vo might recall tentative plans for her to join Helena Han Lin’s forthcoming restaurant pop-up incubator, Jus, also slated for early 2022. Asked about that, Vo says it was a “beautiful opportunity,” but one that she needed to pass up after coming across the St-Hubert Street locale. “My heart was really calling for this Rosemont location and to have my own space.”

An Choi will take over the narrow, elongated 1,300-square-foot venue that previously housed another noodle slinger, Ramen Plaza. While design plans are still in process, Vo envisions waved wooden ceiling panels, an imposing concrete bar, and plenty of greenery for a look that falls somewhere between industrial chic and warm and organic.

It’ll have to cater to both daytime and nighttime crowds, and set the scene for an atmosphere and food offering that’ll evolve over the course of the day. For lunch, Vo says she’ll focus on her deeply flavoured, often fiery bowls of noodle soups, as well as Vietnamese coffee made with beans she plans to source from growers in Vietnam.

Come evening, though, with the space dimly lit and the music dialed up, An Choi will replace the one-bowl meal with intricate spreads meant for sharing. What’s actually featured on the menu will depend on the seasons and availability of local produce, but Vo mentioned bánh bèo (steamed rice cakes) and bánh bột lọc (tapioca dumplings typically filled with shrimp or pork) as possible options. Soup will still be available “for anyone who missed it at lunch,” as will an array of natural wines and a cocktails list. “Alcohol is going to be involved for sure — it’s going to be a party,” she adds.

Though many swear by her cooking, Vo says she’ll be found in the front of house, while her business partner (whose name she’s keeping under wraps for now) will be in the kitchen. “I feel like my strength is really in making sure everyone is having fun and in doing service,” she says. Even while operating in a predominantly virtual capacity, she’s been able to inspire such loyalty in her Pasthyme clientele that a few have offered to help out with the new project — some even willing to get on dish duty, she says.

But no matter where she’s stationed in An Choi, Vo says she thinks it’ll be critical, as a future employer, that she become acquainted with all tasks involved in running the business. “If you’re a restaurant owner, I think you got to know how to cook, and you also got to know how to scrub that toilet. You got to know how to do pretty much everything,” she says.

An Choi is slated to open in spring 2022 at 6553 Rue St-Hubert.

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