8701 109 Street
As you leave the U of A campus headed towards 109th street, staring directly in front of you is a restaurant with signage reading, Phobulous Authentic Vietnamese Cuisine.
This may sound odd – but I found my first experience here to be unusual, only because I had never eaten Pho in a nice looking establishment with clean chairs, tables and stain-free walls. This is a tiny little restaurant, walls adorned with some interesting art and a large menu full of options.
I am not a huge coffee connoisseur, but I do enjoy Vietnamese style iced coffee. Individually brewed in a Vietnamese phin filter over a cup containing sweetened condensed milk – waiting for this to finish brewing can be excruciating. Once it has finished – stir in as much of the sweetened condensed milk to suit your personal taste, before pouring over the tall glass filled with ice.
Phobulous serves a unique brand of coffee – known as Weasel Coffee. Coffee starts its life growing on shrubs or bushes as a fruit, which is then harvested, the outer fruit separated from the bean, dried, roasted, ground and is then finally ready for use. In some South Asian countries, they use a civet or weasel, which gladly goes to work eating only the ripest berries from the crop, digesting the outer fruit, while simultaneously chemically altering the beans characteristics removing the bitter notes. Eventually it “discards” the coffee beans, which are then painstakingly collected by hand, and further processed.
If you ever watched the Flintstones cartoons, you may remember the clever uses the animals played in their daily lives. (i.e. Octopus dishwashers, Pelican garbage can, bird-beak record player). Harvesting of Kopi Luak/Civet/weasel coffee reminds me of this. Picture if you will – a weasel perched on the kitchen window, with its head outside munching on coffee berries. Wilma walks into the kitchen, lifts the weasel tail – and out comes some freshly picked coffee beans… 🙂
I read an article about this a few years ago, when a friend of mine was describing something he called “cat poo coffee”. Kopi Luwak was being toted as the worlds most expensive brew (some even offering a certificate of authenticity), but as popularity grew – oddly, prices seemed to drop. Thus, it was not a surprise to find that an artificial process has been developed to simulate the weasel’s gastric effect on the beans, which is commonly being sold as the real thing. Regardless of the type of coffee – when mixed with sweetened condensed milk, it’s all good.
Maybe it’s just the establishments I tend to go to – but this is the first time I’ve ever found more than one option for goi cuon (salad rolls). Available are the classic shrimp and pork, vegetarian, grilled chicken or grilled la lop – wrapped together with rice noodles, shredded lettuce, bean sprouts, cilantro and garnished with chives.
Photographed above are both the grilled chicken and the shrimp/pork. Both were very good and prepared perfectly – the rice paper wrapper keeping its integrity and the fillings evenly balanced. The dipping sauce is a thinned hoisin with crushed peanuts – providing a nice sweetness to roll.
In my past visits to this restaurant – I usually choose to go with the Pho dac Biet or humerously named Mother Pho. This is their fully-loaded Pho – served with rare steak, brisket, flank, tendon, beef balls, and tripe for $9.95 where the basic Pho Tai, named Pho Real is $7.95. For those who don’t quite get the joke – Pho is pronouced ‘fuh’ or as foot (without the ‘t’).
The broth is clear, with a great depth of flavour. Noodles maintained a good bite, and quantity of toppings is fair. The standard complement of bean sprouts, thai basil, lime, hoisin and sriracha were delivered as expected.
Hu Tieu Love? (The menu is full of this type of humor).
This Southern Vietnamese concoction is definitely worth another visit for me. Pork-stock based broth, topped with chopped fried shallots and Chinese chives – delivers a sweeter, more complex broth as compared with the Northern Vietnam Pho. Served with rice noodles, shrimp and plenty of thinly sliced pork – this was absolutely delicious. I wish I could provide more commentary – but it was difficult trying to steal spoonfuls of soup without having my hand slapped away by my wife…
Located on the menu page labeled ‘Phobulous Introduces’ are a few interesting choices recommended by the server. Ca-ri Ga (Chicken Curry Noodle Soup), Banh Mi Sate (Sate Sub), Bo Kho (Beef Stew) and Bun Bo Hue (Spicy Hue Noodle Soup).
The Ca-ri Ga, carried a mildly spicy broth of curry and coconut milk, served with large chunks of stewed carrots, potatoes, and tender chicken served over rice noodles. Great flavours, very rich, and very good.
The Bo Kho was fantastic. The menu reads “A fragrant blend of star anise, lemongrass, carrots and tender beef brisket in a rich tomato broth served with rice noodles”. Everything delivered as promised – and was good to the last drop. Anyone lacking solid chopstick skills will probably want to be extra careful, as the beef portions are rather large – and makes a big splash when dropped…
Overall, I am very impressed with this restaurant. I get the sense that the chef cares about the food being served both in presentation and in quality, service is attentive, and the atmosphere is great. I will definitely be back again.