Pho Xuan – Calgary, AB
128-920 36 Street NE
Calgary, AB T2A 6L8
Differences of opinion are healthy. After all, no two people will always agree on the same things. Especially when it comes to taste, we really have no idea if what im tasting is the same thing as what you’re tasting. Maybe a bit too theoretical, but for me, it brings up an interesting point. How important are other people’s opinions when it comes to choosing which restaurants you wish to visit? If we assume that no two people taste things the same, then every visit to a restaurant is an independent trial/statistical event (in the sense that each time two different people go to a restaurant, it’s a new trial), and much like gambling and gamblers fallacy, it could be reasoned that it is only a coincidence that two people have similar interests in restaurants.
I’m obviously digressing, but what brought me to this point is a distinct lack of sleep, and one puzzling issue. I occasionally find a restaurant that is well regarded by a significant percentage of people whose opinions are typically similar to mine, that I just don’t like. I don’t understand why, and it bothers me. Am i missing out on something? One of these restaurants for me is Pho Xuan.
Pho Xuan is located in the heart NE Calgary, where there is definitely a bevy of good ethnic restaurants. While not as richly saturated as Chinatown nor Forest Lawn, the NE has a fair selection of Vietnamese restaurants, including a very decent satay soup at Pho Que Hoang. When critics of Pho Que Hoang started pushing Pho Xuan, I had to give it a try.
In a strip mall across the street from the former Franklin Mall (T&T), Pho Xuan is one of those places that is easy to overlook. Very unassuming from the outside, i found it hard to spot within the diversity of stores in the strip mall, including Roti Hut and LaCay Banh Mi shop. After hearing many people, including two very pho-picky friends of mine rave about it, I had to give it a try. Or several tries, based on how often i eat Pho.
The decor at Pho Xuan is nothing to speak of, which, in my experience, usually ends up being a good thing. I can’t think of a single good Vietnamese restaurant with a fancy, well-appointed interior. It is clean, usually very busy, with a very straightforward,simple menu that is familiar to the North American diner now. Pho, Pho Sate, Bun of some sort, salad rolls, spring rolls, shakes and smoothies. While someday i’d like to see other kinds of Vietnamese cuisine make more headway, it’s still enough diversity for me on most days.
I’ve tried the Pho Sate on a couple of occasions – and I have to say it’s pretty bad. It’s their regular Pho with some chili oil, and sa-cha type bbq sauce added. Thin, limp, without depth, it is a not the type of Pho Sate i like. However, I was told that it’s their broth for Pho Tai that is key here. So several more visits were warranted.
While the ingredients are definitely quite fresh, Pho is about the broth, and it wasn’t really up to my standard. First off, i find it excessively oily – something i don’t usually notice, so it’s quite the exception when i do. I understand it is supposed to be oily, but i found it excessively so. Secondly, there is too much sodium, msg, or both – it’s hard to actually discern which the offending party is. The end result is the same of course, it is excessively salty. Not a lot of rich beef flavour, and not a lot of the secondary flavours that really make a broth stand out – the sweetness of charred onion and ginger, the anise and cloves lurking under the surface. Even though everyone I know loves this broth, I don’t.
On the other hand, their Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio, Vermicelli with grilled pork and spring rolls is excellent. The greasiness of their preparation translates better with the crisp, fresh vegetables, and the firm chewiness of the rice vermicelli. Well seasoned pork and a generous slop of nam pla results in a wonderful spicy-sweet-sour balance. An excellent bowl of Bun.
I’m still a bit perplexed that I don’t like the soup nearly as much as everyone else does. I keep going back hoping it’ll be different, as in the real world, you can’t really measure a restaurant experience with statistical analysis – there are just too many variables involved in the entire experience. However, until the day i finally reach an epiphany, i’ll have to keep saying, I don’t really understand what all the fuss is about with Pho Xuan. The Pho just isnt that good. Maybe Bun Xuan would be a better name! If you try it (and bring cash, as it’s a cash only establishment) and find that it suits your tastes, don’t tell me. I don’t think i need to know yet another person who likes it when im just not getting it.