Dining Out: Authentic Vietnamese Pho House
Authentic Vietnamese Pho House
250 Greenbank Rd., 613-695-8388
Hours: Sunday to Thursday 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10:30 a.m. to midnight, closed Monday
Prices: soups and stir-fries from $7.99 to $13.99
Access: no stairs, one washroom with wheelchair access
If only my benchmarks for great Vietnamese food were memories of mind-blowing dishes served on the streets of Saigon. All I can say is that, like many Ottawans, I have my favourite haunts on Somerset Street West and its adjacent roads where dishes are immensely satisfying thanks to their vibrant freshness and big flavours.
I’m adding Authentic Vietnamese Pho House on Greenbank Road to my list of favourite Vietnamese restos. Someone else will have to rule whether the family-run business lives up to its name in terms of replicating the deliciousness of Vietnam. As far as I’m concerned, its food stacks up quite well against the flavours and standards of our Chinatown’s best Vietnamese restaurants — which is authentic enough for me.
Authentic Vietnamese Pho House gets its food right even if, unlike its Chinatown peers, its requisite staples aren’t sold next door. The strip mall that has included Authentic Pho House since early 2011 has no Asian market — just a Metro. Indeed, beside the unassuming but clean and cheerful 30-seat Vietnamese eatery are the usual suspects of suburban dining — a pizza place and Tim Horton’s.
As per the restaurant’s name, the core of Authentic Pho House’s menu is soup. It serves 30 variations of beef-broth-based pho (addressing yearnings for everything from rare beef to brisket, tendon and tripe) and 10 built on chicken broth. The restaurant will make fans of other Vietnamese standards happy too, with the well executed appetizers (deep-fried spring rolls, rice wraps, a sweet-tangy-tart mango salad), a half-dozen dishes that top vermicelli with grilled meats, and a similar number that top rice with meats.
The restaurant also laudably offers several off-the-beaten-path dishes. In my admittedly limited travels of other Ottawa Vietnamese restaurants, I’ve not noted bun rieu thap cam, a soup heavy with crab flavour, and bo tai chanh, a raw beef preparation, both on this restaurant’s menu.
But a pho house must excel first and foremost at making soup. Here, we’ve had four very commendable bowls, in which the broths were nicely balanced, light and not overly salty but deep and comforting, with ingredients floating therein that were consistently fresh and chosen with an eye for quality. The beef broth tasted of bony goodness and a note of cloves. The chicken broth in a special soup of chicken, rice noodles, baby bok choy and a fried egg was mild but tasty.
The bun rieu thap cam, a novelty to us, was thick with crab and tomato flavour, and among the treats in it were homemade shrimp, squid and fish patties. Pho for vegetarians is also served here, with tofu, cabbage, broccoli and rice noodles in a broth that had some body to it and which was concocted with onion and ginger, for starters.
Deep-fried items (shrimp “tempura” and “Hanoi” spring rolls of pork and shrimp wrapped in rice paper) were crisp and impeccable on one visit, but just a touch too greasy on another.
The red curry listed among the white board’s specials found the restaurant taking a Thai twist, with results that were tasty and well-crafted, if more mellow than spicy.
The marinated and grilled meats were solidly made, nicely charred and caramelized whether they were slices of grilled pork in a rice wrap or bits of beef in a beef-and-rice dish.
Fans of beefy flavour who aren’t put off by a bit of fat might favour the restaurant’s grilled short ribs. The thinly sliced ribs were far from lean, perhaps unavoidably so, but they were toothsome and good, with a fish-sauce-based dipping sauce, a side salad, rice and even a bowl of well-garnished broth to cut its richness.
Bo tai chanh — Vietnamese “carpaccio” — presented raw beef under a blanket of herbs, green onion stalks and crushed peanuts, served with a fiery, salty dipping sauce. Unfortunately, the beef was too bland. Everything I know about bo tai chanh comes from some Google searching, and it seems that while other renditions involve curing the beef in lime or lemon juice, that step had been omitted at the pho house.
Desserts included refreshers such as lychee or coconut on ice and mango ice cream, but we split something warmer, indulgent and satisfying — the house’s deep-fried bananas with vanilla ice cream and a sauce of honeyed coconut milk and chocolate.
In Ottawa for the last few years, the trend for some Asian — and not-so Asian — restaurateurs has been to play the Asian-based fusion cuisine card, offering food from multiple countries on a menu, or fare such as Caesar salads with lemongrass crostini or wasabi dressing.
Meanwhile, Authentic Vietnamese Pho House makes a strong case for unpretentious but carefully prepared dishes that try to be as Vietnamese as it gets on Greenbank Road. Most importantly, the restaurant stands for reasonably priced dishes that are really good.