Friend or pho?

I have always had an interesting range of experiences concerning Asian food, from being strangely extravagant affairs (a waiter once offered to cut up my meat into tiny bite-size pieces for me) to being unceremoniously boxed up in Styrofoam containers (I’m looking at you, UW Plaza). This week, I got to try pho for the second time since my arrival in Canada three years ago, served up at Pho Dau Bo’s Kitchener branch.

On the advice of a friend who frequents the establishment, I ordered cha gio (spring rolls with salad), pho dac biet (pho with an assortment of beef parts), fried rice with grilled chicken and pork chops, and, finally, an avocado milkshake.

The restaurant was clean, if only a bit confused in decorations, as Christmas lights clashed against oil and water colour paintings, and I noted that there wasn’t a waving lucky cat anywhere in sight.

Before long, service proved efficient, verging on business-like, as our orders arrived with the precision of well-trained hurricanes. The first arrival, my avocado milkshake, was surprisingly tastier than I expected it to be; refreshing, light, and a great alleviation to the meal’s richness.

The spring rolls also didn’t disappoint, and were finished in one quick bite. Light and crispy, the richness of its meat contrasted well with the subtle tanginess of the fish sauce that accompanied it.

Honestly, the pho was the least favourite part of my meal that night, if only because its companions outshone it so much more on my palette. The citrusy broth was essentially whatever you made of it, with the addition of lime, coriander, green onion, bean sprouts, and hot sauce (I personally loved dousing mine in Sriracha).

Aiming for adventure, I’d also ordered the assortment of beef parts in an attempt to address my fear of mysterious innards. The rare beef had cooked surprisingly quickly and unfortunately had become tough by the time I reached it, while the brisket remained velvety and deeper in flavour.

The tripe, which I initially mistook for some kind of radish, resembled some strange, clear tentacle but turned out to be a rubbery and ultimately harmless flavour sponge for the broth. Finally, the beef ball (which is not as weird if I don’t think about it) was also chewy, and only mildly flavourful.

The true star of the night, it turned out, was in the last place I expected: the fried rice. Quite simply one of the best fried rice dishes I’ve had yet, it was well-spiced and laden with a fantastic amount of string beans, green onions, carrots, and egg.

The grilled pork and chicken retained a surprising charcoal taste just off the grill; my only complaint (if I had one) would be that the pork was slightly overcooked. Otherwise, it was great value ($10), as I simply couldn’t stop shoveling it in.

This week, Pho Dau Bo exceeded my expectations. As a friend of mine wisely said, “It’s hard to find quality, and even if found, quality might not even be recognized as such.” Although generously paraphrased, these words have never been more applicable to Asian food, as Pho Dau Bo offers quality at a great student-friendly price.