Foodosophy – Taxing to Eat


Scanning the news today, I began to wonder how quickly the tide changes from a mood of doom and gloom to sunshine and joy… based on some events that took place in recent days.

News media are happily reporting on the gains made on the TSE today (Thursday) as the Bank of Canada has come out suggesting the recession is over (and noted a 3% rise in economic growth for the Jan-Mar 2009 period), and the Canadian dollar crept up to 92.04 cents U.S.

And today, the BC government has announced they will harmonize the province’s 7% sales tax with the national 5% GST beginning next July. Allegedly done to give the business community a competitive, equal footing with other markets, but to me, I had to look at how it affects me… Mr. Joe Regular. And keeping with the dominant theme of this site, I wondered just how this will affect the power of my dining out dollar.

Brian Bonney, director of provincial affairs with the B.C. and Yukon branch of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, was interviewed in a Vancouver Sun article and this comment was attributed to him in explaining a very key point for us restaurant fanatics.

“Under the new tax system, the HST will apply to all goods and services to which the GST currently applies, with a few exceptions. So restaurants, for example, will have to start charging 12 per cent on meals when they currently only charge the GST on the meal and the combined PST and GST on alcohol.”

OUCH!

Let’s just hope a corresponding reduction in base prices coincides with this tax hike on restaurant meals.

Weigh in readers…

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Imperial Court Beijing Cuisine – Richmond, BC


Imperial Court Beijing Cuisine
6360 No. 3 Rd
Suite 6
Richmond, BC V6Y 2B3
(604) 270-6169

Imperial Court Beijing Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Richmond BC, as many people already know, is a great place to eat Chinese food. Chinese restaurants of varying quality dot the city – specially around the main drag of Number Three Road. When it comes to breakfast spots – it is a real challenge to find anything worthy to eat. The choices seem limited to chain restaurants such as the Whitepot, the IHOP, and similarly mediocre restaurants.

I was running errands early one chilly morning and I wanted to have breakfast….so I drove up to Imperial Court Beijing Cuisine, a restaurant that I knew served dim sum at 8:00 am. Nice.

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Dim sum for breakfast? Sure…why not? People in the West think of dim sum as a lunchtime experience. In China (Hong Kong in particular) and other countries in Asia, dim sum is most certainly a breakfast meal. Dim Sum restaurants there open very early and often stop serving at noon. Here in Canada (and the US) most places that serve dim sum often start serving at 10:00am or 11:00am and stop at 3:00pm.

Imperial Court Beijing Cuisine is a mid-sized restaurant situated in one of Richmond’s oldest strip malls. It is somewhat upscale – it is clean, the tables have nice linen  and they are set with nice white porcelain settings. Like most dim sum restaurants these days, Imperial Court uses order sheets instead the once ubiquitous cart service.

At little after 8:00am on a weekday when I walked in, the restaurant was well staffed – having two “captains” and about four servers. I sat down and ordered a small meal. The captain asked for my tea preference – jasmine, I said. Using the green order sheet, I ordered some Sou (flakey pastry) with Char Sui (BBQ Pork), Chao Fun (Rice Noode Rolls) filled with enoki mushrooms, and Congee with Pork and Century Egg.

The Sou pastry dish came first. Imperial Court’s rendition of this dish is coated with a shiny and sticky syrup – so sticky that with each bite, a bit of the pastry stuck to your teeth. I notice that some of their other buns were similarly coated with this shiny syrup. They looked beautiful…almost like porcelain orbs. The BBQ Pork filling tasted fresh and tender…and not as “porky” as the others I have had.

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I didn’t get a picture of the dipping sauce, but now I wish I had in restrospect. In my opinion, dipping sauces are the unsung heroes of the dim sum universe. It can really make or break the whole dining experience for me. In this case, Imperial Court’s dipping sauce was a sweet, but thin soya sauce concoction. It was a nice balance between sweet and salty and it had subtle notes of spice (perhaps some anise or five spice).

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The Rice Noodle Rolls came in quick succession. The noodles tasted freshly made – soft, tender, and still resilient. The enoki mushroom filling, while delicious, was a bit unwieldy as bits of it fell out as I tried to pick up a piece. (The kitchen had failed to completely cut through the rolls).

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The last dish was the Congee with Cooked Pork and Century Egg. The rendition came with an embellishment of deep fried wonton skin and scallion. It was good and creamy. On a cold day, it was definitley hitting the spot.

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All in all a nice meal for under $10 CAD including tax. Unlike a “regular” breakfast – I didn’t leave feeling bloated and greasy. I asked myself why I don’t eat dim sum for breakfast more often.

Imperial Court Beijing Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Olives Restaurant Deli & Lounge – Calgary, AB


Olives Restaurant, Deli, and Lounge
1129 Olympic Way SE
Calgary, AB T2G 0L4
(403) 984-5000

Olives Restaurant, Deli & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Putting a restaurant in an area under redevelopment is a high risk, high reward proposition. New entrants into the neighbourhood are hoping to be the first to capture the loyalty of the shifting population, resulting in long term, steady, profitable business. However, neighbourhoods don’t always redevelop as planned. Things start and stop. In Calgary, The East Village is a good example of a neighbourhood that hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. Restaurants that rushed to get into the area ahead of the curve are paying the price.

Olives, from the Hotel Arts Group,  is a trendy, modern restaurant and lounge that is moving in ahead of the curve in the new Arriva building in Victoria Park. With a tremendous number of expensive high density buildings planned for the area, a restaurant featuring “innovative” Italian cuisine seems like the perfect fit. Approachable food that would appeal to the population at large. Based on the limited amount of parking for a 200 seat restaurant, mostly street side, I’m assuming this was not intended to be a “destination” restaurant, but to serve the local community. While the total impact of the financial crisis yet to be determined locally, the situation in Victoria Park is tenuous at best. Will the community of high income patrons ever move into the area? And can they survive with an expansive 200-seat space until it happens? It could, but for me, it would depend on the food.

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Upon entering the restaurant, my first thoughts were “impressive”. For me, Olives is a beautiful space. My dining companions found it a touch cold and impersonal, but the modern look combined with a fine attention to the small details works for me. Right down to the tile work in the bathroom and the decorations on the wall, they’ve done a  fantastic job of setting up a functional space that pleases. The only drawback is the extremely high ceilings, which do leave the space feeling a bit empty when it is not completely full of patrons.

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In terms of the food at Olives, there is a lot to say. First off, the menu is a manageable length, something I definitely applaud them for. Too many restaurants these days have a menu that is difficult for the kitchen to manage – sacrificing quality and efficiency by trying to be all things to all people. They’ve made some concessions from the Italian influence in some of their selections, but it’s an appropriate compromise for a menu that features 9 starters, 5 pastas, and 6 entrees.

Our meal starts with a selection of olives, bread, and olive oil for dipping. The bread and olive oil were satisfactory but not exactly memorable. The olives, however, were a great selection of well-preserved olives at the height of their flavour. In the interests of full disclosure, I would like to mention I’m not an olive fan. Dislike them really. No matter how hard i’ve tried, the tastes are too bitter on my palette. These olives were edible though. In my world, that is something extremely memorable.

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We started with the highly recommended grilled squid appetizer($12), served with artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, and a salsa verde. The squid was perfectly cooked, with a nice combination of tender, and bite. However, i wasn’t thrilled with the dish overall. The squid lacked the characteristics that make grilled squid great – a nice smoky char with a light taste of the ocean shining through. It was overdressed in a salsa verde that lacked balance, not enough acidity, and while the artichoke was a great complement, the tomatoes and asparagus added very little to the overall dish. It felt like a salad with squid, when i felt the squid should have shined instead.

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Next dish was one of their two flatbreads($12) – Chorizo with roasted red tomato, provolone, and Italian parsley. Well baked, there was a nice blend of ingredients topping a well baked crust. I found it a touch too doughy for my own personal preferences, as I usually like my flatbread to be a bit thinner, but the crust had a nice blistering to it, and a satisfying bite. Well executed. My only complaint was it arrived warm and not hot.

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The dish I was most looking forward to was the ravioli ($21). Well-prepared ravioli, while simple to prepare, I find to be very comforting on a chilly day. These ravioli were filled with marscapone and truffle parsnip, served on a bed of asparagus and topped with a wild mushroom cream.  Unfortunately, it was the dish that disappointed the most. Once again, the dish arrived a bit cool. The pasta itself was very good – silky, not too thin, but not too thick. I like a little more yellow “richness” to the pasta, but this was more an indication of the quality of the egg yolks rather than the preparation. The filling was conceptually good, but fell short in practice. Creamy smooth texture with a nice hint of truffle oil. The wild mushroom sauce was a bit underwhelming, but the asparagus was good. The issues with the dish were twofold. First, the overall texture was too soft – it was what my friends call “old people food”. A piece of crispy pancetta, or even a fried sage leaf would bring about a bit more contrast. Secondly, the flavours were mild, and to be honest, a bit bland. Parsnip, marscapone, brought very little to the table. Truffle oil, while nice, isn’t the predominant flavour im looking for in a dish. Traditional raviolis where the filling is milder are usually accompanied with a more robust, or brighter sauce. In this case, the wild mushroom sauce fell flat. It did nothing to accentuate the ravioli. Just provided some creamy texture. It was not a poorly executed dish, but I feel poorly conceived – the flavours failed me on this night.

img_3077_filtered The surprise of the night was the steak ($40). Dry rubbed Black Angus Rib Eye with caramelized shallot and mushrooms, served on a bed of pancetta mashed potatos. Succulent, tender, and perfectly cooked to medium rare, this rib eye was a revelation. Great flavours that accentuated the beef, a fine cut, served on my favorite preparation of mashed potatoes – pancetta, heavily buttered. I like some heavy cream in there too, but only on holidays! This was an excellent steak.

I got to try a piece of halibut ($32) too, and it was very well prepared as well. Moist, nice rich flavour well-basted in butter, without taking away from the flavour of the fish. The size would’ve disappointed me, as it was a small 5-6oz serving, but that’s why I didn’t order it.

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We finished with a couple of desserts. The chocolate and pistachio torta with pistachio gelato ($10) was good. Beautiful presentation, the torte had a rich, chocolate flavour that pared well with the pistachio. A touch dense, i enjoyed it nonetheless. The other dessert was a tiramisu ($10), which while I didn’t get to try, was assured was excellent.

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In most reviews I’ve read, Olives has been universally lauded. While there are a lot of very good aspects to them, I would not sing their praises as much as other people have. They’ve put together a solid menu, and the kitchen staff do an excellent job of  executing on the food. Some of the dishes are a bit conceptually flawed, and the portion sizes can be a touch small. The value was ok, but at these prices, I’d probably rather eat at Divino or Blink. They are, overall, consistently better. However, when you look at the experience on its own merits, I have to say, I enjoyed myself. Service was good albeit a bit slow, the food was well-prepared, and other than a few disappointments, it was a decent experience overall. I probably won’t go out of my way to go back, but I wouldn’t be upset if I found myself in the area and dining there again. The key question is, will the patrons needed to keep them afloat do the same until the Victoria Park revitalization is complete? I’m not sure. I think they have some challenging times ahead.

Olives Restaurant, Deli & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Captain Scotts Fish and Chips – Calgary, AB


Captain Scotts Fish and Chips
76-55 Castleridge Boulevard NE
Calgary, AB T3J 3J8
(403) 280-0009

Captain Scotts Fish & Chips on Urbanspoon

Today is more about food, than than any “osophy”. For some reason, i have writers block. I feel repetitive. Any other blog writers ever encounter this? Any solution that doesn’t involve emptying my bottle of gin?

I’ve been exploring the NE a lot lately – mostly because it’s one of those areas I find i’ve neglected for too long. Lots of interesting places – ethnic and otherwise – a drive into every neighbourhood yields a new adventure.

I’d first heard mention of Captain Scotts when involved in a discussion about Captain’s Fish and Chips. I kept confusing the two, and couldn’t keep them separated. It’s located in the same mall as Nirvana, Bombay Sweet House, The Village, and a variety of other East Indian eateries. Makes it a bit easier to find – it definitely sticks out like a sore thumb. 

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The decor is clean and simple. You order from a counter in the back, and sit in a cafeteria like setting. While there is nothing notable about the interior, there isn’t the oily residue on table surfaces and walls that places a little less meticulous often have.

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In terms of a menu, it’s very simple. A wide variety of fish, including Cod, Haddock, Halibut, and Boston Blue, and a bunch of seafood choices – shrimp, scallops, clams. They have some salads and desserts, but to be honest, in a restaurant where everything is deep fried, neither of these really appeal. Prices are pretty reasonable – 1pc fish and chips start at $6.95.

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Unfortunately, the fish is pretty poor. The fish was dry,there was too much batter on an otherwise small piece of fish, and the oil had a definite funk to it. Old oil that really needed to be changed. Condiments came in plastic packages – tartar by Heinz. The coleslaw was slightly mushy and mostly cream – no acidity, no flavour.

On the plus side, the fries were excellent. Fried in what i would guess is a different fryer (no fish-smell contamination), they are crispy, hot, and toothsome. With malt vinegar on every table, and a generous amount of salt, they were an excellent order of fries.

No matter how good the fries are, fish is a pretty critical component to fish and chips. While i may go back occasionally for the fries, i’d skip the fish. Captains, in Brentwood, is much better.

Captain Scotts Fish & Chips on Urbanspoon

Nirvana Sweet House Restaurant and Hall – Calgary, AB


Nirvana Sweet House, Restaurant, and Hall
#1009-5075 Falconridge Blvd.NE
Calgary, AB T3J 3K9
(403) 590-9797

In a highly competitive world, restaurants are always looking for an edge. Lots of new restaurants try and upscale old ideas, usually to mixed success. Classic cuisines are classic for a reason – they work. They taste good, they have the benefit of being tried and true.

In Castleridge, an area dense with East Indian eateries, there is one that stands out from the others. From the owners of Bombay Sweet House, on the back side of Castlebridge Mall, is Nirvana. While most of the eateries in the area are rustic, simple eateries that have basic food, presentation, and decor, Nirvana provides a different concept. Aiming for a high-end look, they’ve combined traditional Indian decor with a slightly modern, western look. Their goal with the menu is high-end Indian, with traditional dishes and ingredients.

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The interior is a mix of modern and classic. One room, surrounded with pillars, is open, airy, and in many ways, cavernous. It is clearly used for banquets, as the vast spacing between tables makes it an uncomfortable dining experience. The second room is a well appointed room decorated in a more traditional “palace-style” Indian decor. This is the room used for service during regular restaurant hours. Spacing is still a bit awkward, but it does the job. I’ll be honest – as clean, nice, and tidy that it is, I don’t like the space. It’s definitely more banquet hall than restaurant. Each table is too detached from the others. I’d prefer a more intimate environment.

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The food is your typical tour across India. Dishes that represent Northern, Central, and South Indian dishes. Geared for producing banquets, the ala carte menu is extensive, with roughly 90 items.  Prices are actually quite reasonable – a great place to try a wide variety of dishes.

During my first visit, they had a buffet. They’ve since cancelled it, and it’s tough to compare buffet to ala carte service. However, my general  impressions of the buffet were that it was good quality, well spiced, and well prepared.

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On  a second visit, we ordered strictly ala carte. Murgh Makhni (butter chicken), tandoori platter, paneer e shola, saffron pulao, and naan.  I’m not a huge fan of butter chicken, but it was pretty decent. Good tandoori flavour, a nice rice butter sauce. A touch dry, but otherwise quite enjoyable.

The tandoori platter was good, but not specifically memorable. A mix of chicken tikka, paneer tikka, tandoori prawn,  fish tikka, and kebab, the paneer tikka was probably my favorite. The prawns were dry, the fish tikka was quite good flavour wise, but quite dry as well, and the rest don’t really strike much a chord with me.

The paneer e shola were good, but the chick peas were a bit overcooked, and the flavour wasnt well balanced. Too much bitterness. Rice and naan were standard,

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The owners of Nirvana bill it as “one of the finest establishments and first one of its kind in North America taking East Indian dining to another level”. This is a bit overstated, and Nirvana Sweet House is an overly ambitious project that doesn’t succeed on so many levels. While definitely clean, it is a cold, impersonal, and sterile space. The food is of good quality, and traditionally prepared, but fails to meet the billing of taking East Indian dining to another level. If i had to take the girlfriend’s conservative parents for Indian food on a first meeting, this might be the kind of place  i’d go. The friendly, albeit slow service is good, it’s clean, and the food is decent. On any other occasion, I’d probably pass. It’s too bad really, as the food is good, and reasonably priced. It’s just not a comfortable place to eat. I’d rather eat at the Bombay Sweet House.

Nirvana Sweet House Restaurant and Hall on Urbanspoon

Atlas Specialty Supermarket and Persian Cuisine – Calgary, AB


Atlas Specialty Supermarket and Persian Cuisine
100-1000 9 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB T2P 2Y6
(403) 230-0990

I was asked an interesting question today. “What do you think will be the next big cuisine? Japanese has taken off. Vietnamese before that. What’s next?” In thinking about this, I realized that the food trends over the past 10 years have quite a few similarities. First off, they’re ethnic that are becoming mainstream. Secondly, they have an abundance of flavour, yet with approachable ingredients (sushi would be the exception – that was quite the shock to the North American palette, and based on how many people mean “rolls” when they say they like sushi, i’d still say it is), and lastly, they are healthier than many traditional Western and European fare. Might it be Persian? It’s possible. There are an increasing number of kabob houses starting to open – which are generally Afghani, Iraqi, or Persian. The cuisine is quite healthy, has an abundance of flavour, and approachable ingredients. We might have a winner!

Atlas Specialty Supermarket and Persian Cuisine is a combination restaurant and supermarket, definitely a combination I find odd. While you often find takeout and grocery combined, rarely do you see a nice, well appointed room combined with groceries. However, it’s easy access to some of my favorite spices like sumac, and ingredients like pomegranate paste, so i don’t mind getting my shopping done while i eat.

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As previously mentioned, the room is a clean, well appointed, comfortable affair. Much longer than it is wide, it comfortably seats 30-40. It is often completely full on weekends, when it is usually difficult to get a table. Weekdays i find are hit and miss. Sometimes, completely empty. Sometimes, you’re turned away, or encouraged to order take out. If you get a table, they are spartan, yet comfortable. No complaints here.

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Persian food has similarities to other Middle Eastern cultures, primarily Afghani, Iraqi, as well as similarities in grilled meat with the Turks. As we order, we decide to try the traditional Iranian drink doogh ($2.50) with the meal – a mix of soda, yogurt, and mint. We made the incorrect assumption that this would function similar to a lassi in Indian cuisine – quench some of the heat, while providing a flavourful and complementary balance to the food. On the contrary, we found it difficult to finish, and while it complimented the khoresht (stew) reasonably well, it killed the flavour of the grilled meat. I would not order it again.

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For food, we order a khorest – Ghormeh Sabzi ($13.99) to be exact, and a platter of grilled meat ($31.99) – koobideh, steak and chicken. The platter comes with the typical accompaniments – rice, grilled tomato and onions.

The rice itself is good. A kateh (butter-enhanced rice) decorated with some saffron color and onions,  it is both flavourful, and extremely fluffy. The richness goes well with the depth of the grilled meat. I find it’s a good balance with some of the more acidic, sweeter khoreshts, but not as good with the rich, creamier khorests. Bread would probably be a better choice for those.

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The Ghormeh Sabzi is a khoresht made of mixed greens (herbs, spinach, and cilantro), and cooked with kidney beans, meat, and citrus, to produce a fragrant, tangy, yet slightly sweet stew. It’s good, but a touch oily, and not quite enough chunks of lamb for my liking. Good flavour though.

The grilled platter has many similarities to the kinds of kebabs served in most other Middle Eastern cultures – and there’s definitely nothing wrong with that! A couple of spiced ground meat (koobideh) kebabs, generally my favorite, are excellent. Flavourful, well spiced, and nicely caramelized on the exterior. The barg (beef in this case) is good, but really just chunks of seasoned meat on a skewer. The chicken is good – flavourful, tender, and not overcooked. Easy to share, and tasty to boot, this dish is an easy introduction for people learning to appreciate other flavours.

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Overall, the food at Atlas Supermarket and Persian Cuisine is flavourful, and quite consistent. And just as importantly, the value seems to be there. Khoreshts are small servings, but reasonably good deals, priced similar to an Indian curry. The grill is where some find it a bit pricey – $32 for a platter for two isn’t cheap, but as long as you arent a meat glutton, then it will serve 2 people comfortably. We shared the khoresht and the platter among three people, and left a little bit of food behind. Not bad for $50.

Thinking on it some more, I feel predicting the next “big cuisine” is difficult. Typically, I find the trends of the West Coast generally filter their way across slowly, which means we can usually predict Calgary’s next restaurant shift based on what is popular there a year ago. And Persian food, while somewhat popular, is a long way from sharing the same success that other cuisines have had on the coast. Calgary seems to have a bigger Middle Eastern population, so im not sure if it’ll catch on or not. Which is too bad, as the food is approachable, flavourful, and reasonably priced. Something that should easily succeed here.

Atlas Specialty Supermarket & Persian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Le Pho Vietnamese Cuisine and Grill – Calgary, AB


Le Pho Vietnamese Cuisine and Grill
36-55 Castleridge Boulevard NE
Calgary, AB
(403) 285-7830

Ok, so if you haven’t noticed, i like Pho. A lot. Im generally willing to try any Pho place twice, occasionally only once if it was terrible, even if it looks like it’ll be an unmitigated disaster.  I’ve had some bad experiences at some of my more favored places – so i want to give it a second try just in case i caught a great place on a bad day. Le Pho is a place i have to try again.

Le Pho is located deep in the heart of Little India – Castleridge Mall. A bit out of place amongst all the East Indian eateries, it caught my eye when i was on my way to Bombay Sweet House. In looking up their exact address, i realized there were 3 different Le Pho’s, with slightly different names. I’m not sure if they are all affiliated, but according to Urban Spoon, this one is affiliated with the one in the SE. Not quite Pho Hoa, but it’s described as a “chain” nonetheless.

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For what it’s worth, the decor at Le Pho was clean, and dated. In my experiences, it’s hard to judge a Vietnamese restaurant based on its decor. Nice and clean doesnt necessarily mean that the food is good (Quynh in Sunridge is a perfect example of this… what terrible food). Dirty doesn’t mean it’s bad – i’ve seen cockroaches run around some Pho shops in Chinatown, and proceeded to have a really good bowl. However, i’ve developed a 6th sense just by looking at the clientele, what they are eating, and how happy and intent they look. I have to say, Le Pho wasn’t all that promising.

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We ordered three standard tasting dishes,  goi cuon (salad rolls), a bowl of pho sate, and a bowl of bun thit nuong.

The salad rolls were excellent. The shrimp was fresh, there was fresh basil rolled inside (which i greatly prefer for texture, color, and flavour balance), and the noodles and greens were very crisp. The major issue was the skins, which were a bit tough and rubbery. But with a decent sauce, well balanced flavours of hoisin, chili, and fish sauce, these were a good start,

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The Bun was actually quite disappointing. Generally speaking, i find the quality of the Bun Thit Nuong ($8.95) in Calgary to be pretty good. In conversation with a friend today, they mentioned that they felt the primary differences came down to the sauce for the meat, and the quality of the spring rolls. This was a bowl on the smaller size, with loads of ingredients. The problem was the flavours all kind of blended together, resulting in a slightly bland flavour. Good texture though.

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The Pho Sate($8.00) was also quite disappointing as well. The broth was over MSG’d, leaving a very slightly chemically, overly salty taste. It lacked beef flavour, and the sate – well, i’ll let the photo speak for itself…it was bland and lacked any sort of peanut or chili character. The beef was actually quite good though – added rare, and sliced thin enough to stay quite tender. The noodles, however, were too firm and still all completely tangled. Overall, quite disappointing and unsatisfying.

Seeing as this was my first visit, I don’t wish to be overly critical. I have noticed i’ve been quite critical of many Pho restaurants in the past, and while i hold them to high standards for quality, there is the need to try and be as fair as possible. However, if it were for anything other than research, I would probably not return. Generally speaking, these outliers of Vietnamese restaurants (those outside the principle stretch of Pho restaurants between 16th Ave N and 17th Ave S), are usually much cheaper, though still quite hit or miss on quality. With Le Pho, we have average prices, and below average food. That’s not a winning combination.

Le Pho Vietnamese Cuisine and Grill on Urbanspoon