Colonial Quy-Bau
Experience the joys of well-executed French-Thai-Vietnamese fusion at this Willow Grove BYOB
by Brian Freedman

Pulling together a solid fusion menu is a difficult task. Back when the concept of melding techniques and ingredients from two distinct cuisines was in its infancy—and here I mean fusion as we now tend to know it, as a bringing together of East and West—chefs who chose to attempt it had an easier time than they do today. Back then, it was all so new, so unfamiliar, and there was a greater margin for error. But now, nearly two decades since it began to have a significant impact on how we eat in this country and this region, fusion has, in general, lost some of its luster.

Good thing the team at Colonial Quy-Bau hasn’t given up on it, because they are turning out some of the tastiest cuisine in the Philadelphia suburbs. Their menu and other materials note that they’re working in the specific arena of French-Asian cuisine, but even that is a rather general term: Asia is a big place, with countless national, regional and local food traditions. Their focus on the more familiar flavors of France, Thailand and Vietnam, then, is a smart one, as there is something of a common thread that weaves them together, given the occasionally complicated colonial history between the former and the latter. The results on the plate, happily, are well wrought and enjoyable.

More overtly fused dishes fare well, such as a recent warm carrot soup special that arrived as brightly orange as a traffic cone and streaked with the unique sweet spice of fresh ginger. It was a straightforward dish that worked as a result of its refusal to peddle in the overly complicated. In this case, a willingness to allow a few well-chosen ingredients to shine—including a great housemade chicken stock—led to a dish of clarity and pleasure.

Plump calamari, each ring ensconced in its own crispy carapace of fried batter, strayed from the Thai-Vietnamese milieu with its inclusion of wasabi in the sweet-spicy aioli; this was a more northerly nod, more Japanese. Regardless, the result was a success. A drag of that squid through the dressing, a forkful of crisp napa cabbage shreds, and this is a plate that could send shivers of menace through Italian chefs all over the region, a surprising number of whom still seem to think that soggy batter and ho-hum marinara is enough to frame their calamari preparations.

Other fusions, however, never quite came together. The shrimp and corn fritters were not only fried in oil that seemed just shy of hot enough, leading to a hair too much absorption within the fritters themselves, but there was little pop to the flavors, little texture to grab and hold one’s attention. While the accompanying pepper, cucumber and onion salad helped in this regard, I’m still trying to figure out why, in August in Philadelphia, the corn was so lacking in flavor and snap.

Excellent Quy-Bau golden bags fared much better, the crisp wrapper of each a fitting container for the filling of shrimp and jumbo lump crab. And while I would have liked the sweet chili sauce to focus a touch more on the crab than the shrimp, it was nonetheless a ringing success, compulsively poppable and excellent with both the dry Riesling and rosé my dining companions and I had brought along. (It also would have paired well with a beer, so bring both to this BYOB; food this good deserves multiple bottles.)    

There were many such successes here—the rice, unexpectedly, among the most notable. A dish of com chien thit nuong, or jasmine fried rice with Vietnamese barbecued pork, was so much more than its menu description. Each bite of the rice itself revealed a different, unexpected layer of perfume, of flavor: onions, bell peppers, corn, egg and more. But it was the porcine protein that stole the show, crisp-edged strips of marinated pork belly, grilled up and perfectly balanced between the sweet and the earthy. One word came to mind: remarkable.

Pad Thai was also well rendered, the shrimp cooked with care and precision, the noodles perky and sweet and more complex than the tamarind-candy that we all still too often encounter elsewhere. Pho was built on a base of exceptionally clean, deeply flavorful stock, simmered up in house and more than worth the effort that went into its creation. Tender Amish chicken studded a red curry was a lovely introduction to the layering of flavors, of herb and spice, that makes these quintessentially Thai preparations so beloved. A roasted duck special, the skin crisped up and enshrouding meat of serious depth and moistness, benefited from a sweet apricot glaze that, even in its more pronounced nod toward France, was a success.

With service as pleasant and friendly as it is well informed and attentive, and a physical space both convivial and aesthetically appealing, Colonial Quy-Bau is proving to be a destination for guests from the immediate Montgomery County area and beyond. No wonder: It’s a deserving, delicious addition, and it pulls off the fusion trick with more skill than most. They’re bringing back much of its luster, luckily for us all.

Colonial Quy-Bau
101 E. Moreland Road, Willow Grove
215-346-2328 |

Photography by Rob Hall