So, it was a Friday night, I’d had a long week and I needed a quick bite. Nothing too complicated, just something tasty.
Kazu has been getting tons of buzz lately, so I thought it might be the perfect time to give it a try. I was expecting there to be a bit of a line, but wasn’t expecting to see 20 or so people huddled on the sidewalk waiting to gain entry. It was a bit chilly, I was hungry and tired, and I’m not too keen about doing lines at the best of times. So it was an easy decision to duck into Pho Saigon VIP next door. Kazu would have to wait for another day…
This was my third visit to Pho Saigon, that alone tells me that it must be pretty good. So, why not make it my first review?
On this visit, my better half and I both opted for the grilled chicken tonkinese soup and decided to split some peanut butter dumplings and salt and pepper shrimp. Our waitress asked us if we were sure we wanted that much, which gave us pause for a second (is that a particularly large order?), but we forged ahead. After ordering I noticed that the table beside us was opening up a bottle of wine. It’s easy to forget that this place is BYOW. They’ve got a little sign up front but hardly anyone drinks in there, what’s up with that? I thought about beer and started to salivate, so I excused myself from the table and headed outside to the dep to grab two cans of Sapporo (the Kazu line was still huge). [Update: 11/3/11 - apparently they weren't thrilled about the BYOW idea either. As of late October the place is no longer BYOW]
When I came back there was a fresh, piping hot bowl of soup on the table. The accompanying garnish plate has bean sprouts, large leaves of fresh basil, a few peppers and some lime, so you can add that little level of customization to your dish (I likes lots of basil and lots of pepper). The broth is full of flavour and, importantly, the chicken is good in its own right – nice firm slices of grilled meat. The noodles are plentiful and well cooked, with a slightly chewy texture. Add that all together, throw in your custom garnish and you get a soup that really hits the spot.
As we were slurping our noodles, the dumplings and shrimp showed up. Peanut butter dumplings seem pretty simple. I mean, you steam some dumplings and thrown some sauce on there, what can go wrong? Right? Well, for whatever reason, I seem to have had more bad peanut butter dumplings than good ones in my life – too mushy, too doughy, bland sauce (note: melted peanut butter is not sauce), etc. The good news is that these little things didn’t suffer from any of those deficiencies. They has a nice firmness to them and just enough sauce to complement but not overpower the dumpling. What set these apart for me was the hint of heat and saltiness in the dish. Bite into one of these and you don’t feel like you’re eating a mouthful of sweetened peanut butter, you feel like you’re eating a good dumpling with a delicious peanut butter based sauce, which is how it should be. These are really good dumplings.
On to the shrimp. This was the least impressive dish of the night. Salt and pepper shrimp might be my favourite Asian dish out there, so I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur. These ones were a bit too salty (and trust me, if I’m saying that, they were salty). They also lacked that crispiness that salt and pepper shrimps need to be great. At the end of the day though, they were fried shrimps, so we still devoured the whole plate.
Overall, a solid experience – good food and quick service in a clean environment. They also have a nice flatscreen on the wall which I suspect will come in handy during the hockey season. I will definitely be back.
Price: $30 + tip for two
Rating: 2 – Meh, it’s OK.
[Note: I initially rated this place a 3. After another visit and some more reflection I have downgraded it to a 2. I still stand behind the tonkinese soup and dumplings, but the other menu items (e.g. the grilled meats) are really just OK. I typically wouldn't go back to a 2 on my own, but I could see myself popping in here again for a soup and dumplings during the winter.]
Pho Saigon VIP - 1850 St. Catherine Ouest