Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cold weather? Pho time, pho' sho! - Pho Tay Ho

What's the best type of food to have when it's snowing up a storm outside, your gums ache from having your wisdom teeth removed and your friend still insists on going out? Why, hot, soupy noodles, of course! And more specifically pho (pronounced fuh, as in fun), the tastiest soupy noodles around. Having tried most of the more popular pho places downtown and being unsatisfied with the quality, we decided to check out Pho Tay Ho in Saint-Edouard.

So sorry for the long delay! As I mentioned previously, I recently got my wisdom teeth removed, so I've been off solid food for a while. Also, I forgot my camera again, so I had to rely on crummy phone pics. At least the lighting wasn't too bad in the restaurant, so you can have some idea as to what the food looks like...

Le chipmunk face, post wisdom teeth removal

Accessibility - Grade: B
Pho Tay Ho is definitely located nowhere near downtown, but it's around a 5 minute walk from Beaubien metro, and it's located on St-Denis, so it's pretty accessible. Hey, if I could make it there with snow blowing in my face and a snow plow chasing after me, then it's definitely accessible.

Service - Grade: C
I haven't been severely disappointed in the service at a restaurant in a while now. The waiter who served us seemed very angry from the moment we sat down to the moment we left. He was very curt, and often didn't say a word when he brought us our food or took our order. He seemed to ignore us when we tried to hail him, and didn't check in on us at all. However, the girl behind the cash was pleasant enough, which was a relief. I'm usually not picky with service, but if it's bad enough to disrupt my good mood, then it's definitely bad. Still, I've yet to find a pho place where the service is actually good...

Food - Grade: B+
I haven't tried that many pho places, but out of the ones that I have frequented, this is one of the better ones.

Three-colored bean drink
My friends each ordered a three-colour bean drink, which is a drink that can be found in most Vietnamese restaurants. It consists of a layer of beans, mostly sweet red beans, a layer of green jelly and a layer of coconut milk, hence the 'three colours'. The drink is quite good, especially if you have a sweet tooth and like coconut milk; however, you will often find yourself left with a pile of red beans at the end, and wishing for more coconut milk. It's also pretty filling for a drink.

Espresso and condensed milk
 This is the espresso version of Vietnamese coffee. They give you a cup with condensed milk in it, and a metal filter for espresso, which drains in front of you. It takes a pretty long time for the coffee to drain completely, so if you're looking to drink something right away, you might not want to order this. After the espresso shot is pulled, you mix it with the condensed milk and pour everything over ice. I love coffee and I love condensed milk, so naturally, I would love this sweet, caffeinated conconction. It's just unfortunate that the coffee to ice ratio is something like 1:3.

Imperial rolls
We tried the imperial rolls, which weren't anything special. They contained ground pork and mashed up carrots, and tasted much like the imperial rolls found at any other Vietnamese restaurant.

Rare beef salad
The rare beef salad, on the other hand, was definitely noteworthy. If you're squeamish about eating raw beef, then this dish is not for you. However, if you are a brave, brave soul who is unafraid of the potential digestive problems or (maaaaaaaaybe) mentally-unstable bovine illnesses that this dish might bring about, then I say: "Go forth, m'lass/lad! Experience the new, explore the unexplored, and most importantly, be more than what you can be!"

...Yeeeaaahhh, IDEK, ok? It's probably the painkillers talking...

 Aaaaanyway, the dish consists of slices of onions, various herbs, crushed peanuts, shrimp chips and slices of rare, tenderized beef that has probably been marinated and beaten like it owed someone money. It came with a side of lemon slices and fish sauce. I suppose you could try dipping the meat in the sauce and eating it like that, but we ain't dainty like that, so we just poured the entire thing over the salad and tossed it. We tried both piling everything onto a chip and eating it and just eating it solo, but found out that in the end, it doesn't matter how eat it, just as long as you do.

Rare beef salad

Despite the beef being essentially raw, it didn't have any metallic or unpleasant flavours. This is probably attributed to the tang from the lemon juice and the onions. Couple this with the bold flavours from the herbs and the crunch from the peanuts - as well as some spiciness from the chopped peppers - and you won't even remember that you're eating raw beef. Trust me; my feelings towards raw beef were neutral at best, but I was pretty enamoured with and impressed by this salad.

Chicken and Beef pho

The pho itself was also quite different from the ones I've had at other restaurants. For one, the broth was much more fragrant and much less salty than the broth found at other pho places. The taste of MSG was also much less prominent. Since this restaurant specializes in chicken pho, they use chicken broth for the soup, and they add lemongrass and a bit of ginger to it to give it a bite of spice. The noodles also seem fresher than the ones found at other pho places. While they do tend to clump, they are also springier and more elastic than the typical pho noodles, so they may actually be using fresh rice noodles instead of dried ones.

Chicken and beef pho

They are ridiculously generous with the meat here. The pho I ordered contained slices of rare beef and white chicken meat, as well chicken offals (gizzard, heart, liver). The offals have a strong gamey taste to them, and might not be for everyone. I don't usually eat innards, but I can tolerate it, and I found the taste to be a bit overwhelming towards the end, especially since THEY PUT SO MUCH OF IT. But hey, if it's your thing, then you'll definitely like this dish. If not, then their regular chicken pho looks just as generous and just as tasty!

Price - $$
The prices are a bit steeper than other pho places. It's around $8 for a small bowl of pho here, whereas at other places, it's closer to $6.50. Still, the quality justifies the price, and $8 is still very affordable. We ordered two three-color bean drinks, one espresso and condensed milk drink, one order of imperial rolls, one rare beef salad, two large chicken and beef pho and one large chicken pho, and the price before tip came up to around $50. So with tip, it would come up to a bit less than $20 per person.

Final Grade: B
On the one hand, the food was very good and the menu refreshingly different from the downtown pho restaurants. On the other hand, the service here is just as unimpressive as its downtown counterparts (or maybe I just have the worst luck when it comes to pho restaurants?). Still, until I find another equally interesting pho place, I can see myself returning here in the near future.

Pho Tay Ho
6414 Rue St-Denis, Montreal
(514) 273-5627
Restaurant Pho Tay Ho on Urbanspoon


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