Mini Mango – Edmonton, AB


Mini Mango
1056 91 Street SW
Edmonton, AB
(780) 756-6464

True to its name, Mini Mango is a tidy little space set up within a strip mall (of which there are many in Edmonton) on the city’s southside.  But contrary to so many Vietnamese noodle joints that I’ve frequented, this establishment has applied some more modern touches, thus resulting in a chicer, compact environment that should appeal to those who are less inclined to visit more hole-in-the-wall type of restaurants.  Four and two-top seating arrangements, a corner booth, and even a special section with high stools for solo diners completes the picture here, though I imagine they do get their fare share of take away customers.  According to my local contact, the lunch hour here can get hectic, and seemingly a popular place for the stay-at-home moms who perhaps want to have a mid-day meal that is more on the “exotic” side.  Such is the life of Alberta suburbia I suppose…

The system in place was very much like Famoso, that I’d visited a few days earlier.  Step up to the front counter, place your order, pay there, and then go to your seat and your food would be brought out to you.  I don’t think I saw any menu cards or booklets at the tables themselves and my only reference of what there was to eat was the sign board pinned to the wall in the employee-only area connected to the kitchen.  Appetizers hitting on things like Vietnamese spring rolls and salads were interspersed with a few other Asian-themed dishes such as kimchi and “Thai” deep fried prawns in wonton wrappers.

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Random Chinatown Chowing (June 2010) – Edmonton, AB


Its been said many times, but there is something special about the big blue skies of summer in Alberta.  On a recent visit to Edmonton, I had the pleasure of driving around a bit, seeing some rural and urban landscapes that reminded me of how great the scenery can be where there isn’t that abundance of grey clouds and gloomy rainy weather that dominates the west coast in June.  I guess that has something to do with the large quantities of great produce and livestock product that comes out of this oil-rich province.  Good eats under sunny skies, what could be better!

During my stay, I made a completely random jaunt to 97th street just north of the downtown core of Edmonton that resulted in a trio of stops all within the span of about an hour!  While the Alberta capital’s Chinatown isn’t as pronounced nor expansive of say Vancouver’s version, it does have some of the same classical appeal and is worth checking out.  Alas, this early Saturday morning resulted in stopovers at least than traditional Chinese places for the most part, but hope you can follow the story…

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Paradise Vegetarian Noodle House – Burnaby, BC


Paradise Vegetarian Noodle House
8681 10th Ave
Burnaby, BC
(604) 527-8138

Branching out and exploring new cuisines and ingredients I believe is part of the appeal of doing what we do, as I’m sure other regular food bloggers will attest.  Vegetarian cooking is one that I’m not wildly enthusiastic about, because let’s face it, carnivorous dining is where it’s at.

So you can imagine the hesitation or perhaps curiosity that was swirling around in my mind, when I decided to drop into a visibly named vegetarian establishment that served up Vietnamese food.  Would it be a new found paradise for me, as their namesake showed, I just had to find out for myself.

With blinds obstructing the view inside, as well as the sun’s glare off the front windows, I wasn’t sure what waited for me inside the Paradise Vegetarian Noodle House.  Upon entering, I found several tables already occupied.  By what looked like a middle aged man and his elderly father, another had a trio of big young gents dressed in utilities worker overalls, and then a group of four office workers.  And everyone was being attended to by this petite smiling woman, who was hustling back and forth from the kitchen.

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Pho Ha Noi – San Jose, CA


Pho Ha Noi
1759 Capitol Expressway
San Jose, CA 95121-1561
(408) 239-0888

When discussing the origins of Pho, there are not a lot of facts available. While some think that the origin of Pho (pronounced ‘Fuh’) is from the French dish Pot au Feu, there is very little that historians can agree on. Reconstructing an oral history from something from the turn of the 20th Century can’t be easy. But there are a couple facts that are always agreed upon – Pho was originally beef, there was undoubtedly a French influence on the creation of the dish, and that it originated in the North, somewhere around Ha Noi, and was brought South with locals who migrated when the country was split into two in 1954.

Versions of Pho from the North ended up quite different than versions of the South, which was adapted a lot more for the Southern palate. As i discussed in my post on Pho Y #1, which is just across the road from Pho Ha Noi, versions in the North are much milder and more subtle. Far less anise, clove, black cardamom, and lighter treatments of charred onion and ginger, resulting in a lighter, cleaner broth. Pho Ha Noi serves a true northern style Pho, quite different than the Southern style Pho served at Pho Y #1.

Located at the intersection of Capitol Expressway and Silver Creek Road, it’s another in the large number of Vietnamese noodle shops in the area.
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Pho Y #1 – San Jose, CA


Pho Y #1
1660 Capitol Expressway
San Jose, CA 95121-1839
(408) 274-1769

In travelling through Vietnam from North to South, it was interesting to see the changes in Pho. Starting in the North, the flavour was extremely subtle, delicate, and extremely balanced. Very light accompaniments. Broth had a wonderful clean odor like perfume, and the taste of beef with gentle underlying spice notes.  A delicate balance between sweet, and salty. As you moved further south, things got richer, spicier, beefier. Bolder flavours, stronger presence, the broth was more pronounced. Darker, saltier, more charred ginger, onion, and star anise.

Bringing back this understanding with me to North America, I’ve come to realize how many variations exist in Pho restaurants here, and that your favorite Pho will likely be a matter of personal preference. The key element, balance, exists in both styles, and in an infinite number of small regional differences.

With a very large Vietnamese immigrant population, it is no surprise that San Jose is home to some of the best Vietnamese restaurants in North America. One area with a particularly high concentration of high quality restaurants is the intersection of the Capitol Expressway and Silver Creek Road. One of the oldest, most highly regarded, and best known Pho restaurants exists there – Pho Y#1.

Pho Y#1 is a bit of an oddity. If you’ve been a frequent reader, you know I’ve stumped at length for the past few years about restaurants staying within their means, and trying not to be all things to all people.  Keeping a manageable menu that allows them to maintain high quality standards.
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Phobulous – Edmonton, AB


Phobulous
8701 109 Street
Edmonton, AB
(780) 988-2696

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.

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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.

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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.

phobulous_goi_cuon

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’).

phobulous_motherpho

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…

phobulous_hu_tieu

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.

phobulous_cari_ga

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…

phobulous_bo_kho

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.

Phobulous on Urbanspoon

My Chau – Vancouver, BC


My Chau
1715 Kingsway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 874-6880

My Chau on Urbanspoon

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When I walk into an ethnic restaurant for the first time, I make an attempt to determine if they have a specialty – a particular house dish for which they are “famous” within their community. I look for clues in the menu or on chalkboards and also I look around at the other tables to see what the other patrons are having.

The first time I entered My Chau a couple of years ago, determining their specialty was easy  – it was their chicken pho (pho ga) with a side of deep fried chicken leg. The place was packed for lunch and almost every single table had a plate full of this beautifully deep fried chicken leg that comes with bowl of a chicken pho. I knew then I had to have it.

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This place is truly a hole-in-the-wall in the best meaning of the term. The restaurant is a mere sliver – perhaps ten feet across and seats no more than perhaps 20-30 people. For such a tiny place, they have an extensive eight page menu.

East Vancouver has a number of places that serve a good beef pho (pho bo). My Chau differentiates itself from the crowd by specializing in pho ga and thus have developed a quite a following. It fills up quickly around lunch time – often with well-dressed and affluent Vietnamese side by side with working class folk looking to have a good pho ga.

Their chicken broth is light, but flavourful – and very nearly transparent in its clarity. It is also quite light in salt. I do not detect that “round” MSG flavour that so many bowls of pho in this town exhibit. The accompanying chicken leg is fried perfectly – with a crisp, golden skin and tender meat. I suspect that the legs had been used to make the broth prior to being deep fried. It may explain the excellent crispiness of the skin. It is delicious and perfectly seasoned.

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The noodles are perfectly cooked – loosely separate, al dente, fresh tasting and nicely “ricey”.

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The other food I have had here has been very good (The hu tieu – dry noodles – in particular). However, it is their pho ga that beckons.

My Chau on Urbanspoon