Pho Hoang Vietnamese Restaurant – Vancouver, BC

Pho Hoang Vietnamese Restaurant
3388 Main Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 874 0832

Pho Hoang Vietnamese on Urbanspoon

I know many of you are anxiously awaiting the return of the Foodosopher, who no doubt will have many fine reports on his culinary adventures in south east Asia, which he alluded to here in a rare posting. As a prelude to a likely review of some authentic Vietnamese cuisine upon his return, I thought I’d would talk about a recent visit to one of Vancouver’s better known spots serving this country’s food.

Before I begin, I wish to pose a question. Have you ever gone to a restaurant, not one that you routinely frequent so that you’d qualify as a ‘regular’, and end up running into the same people whenever you have gone? This happens to me at Pho Hoang on Main Street. Now over the past I’d say nine months, I’ve been here three times. And on each occasion, granted I am coming in on the same day of the week (Saturday) and usually around the same time (late morning), I have caught the eye of this same trio of people (two men and one woman) who are seated at the same table. On this most recent occasion, I caught the gaze of one of the men, and the look in his eye suggested the same disbelief I was sensing.

Not knowing for sure if they are regulars or if this is just shear coincidence, I just settled into my seat and then tried to recall my two previous meals here. Lemongrass chicken and rice, spring rolls, and pho have all been decent, but not in the amazing category that would make you want to come back frequently (so again, why was that trio here?).  My rational mind continued to struggle in figuring out why I was having this Groundhog’s Day experience over and over again.

With an empty stomach and a chill in the air, I settled on having a large bowl of pho with rare beef. Now my memory of the soup here was positive: a light broth, with none of that metallic tasting sensation that I tend to associate with a heavy handed chef shaking his MSG bottle. On this occasion, the noodles were a miss, noticeably overcooked and limp. And this was just after my first mouthful of them, so it was a disappointment knowing that I had gotten the large size and there was much more to go through. I have to wonder, does the person in kitchen know that a larger mass of noodles in the hot water doesn’t mean they have to give it an extraordinary amount of time to cook?

The soup was a touch oilier than I recalled as well, as you can perhaps gleam from the image above.  Also, and I can’t remember if it happens regularly, but the bean sprouts that they provided on the side plate were not raw, as they had been blanched slightly making them almost as weak as my noodles.  And finally, the slices of raw beef had come clumped together.  I really wish they had taken the time to spread them out allowing them to gradually cook evenly in the soup.  Now that I had more time to recollect, my previous time eating pho here had been with the well done beef, so I hadn’t noticed this before.

Lastly, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of comments regarding the service here made by others in the online community.  Perhaps its due to my limited number of visits and the day/time that they’ve been, but I’ve never had any issues.  The server, who’s been the same cheerful woman on each visit, has been quick, polite and responsive when I’ve asked for the final bill.   I noticed that the place is fairly spacious and is split almost in two.  Maybe sitting on the side where the entrance in the kitchen is, would help in getting more attentive service, especially when its busy and its hard to flag down a waitress – just a suggestion.

If I happen to be in the ‘hood again and have a pho craving, I will probably just stop by again, to see if I run into my same group of “stalkers”.  Otherwise, the food alone would not be enough to get me back…

Pho Hoang Vietnamese on Urbanspoon

Mr.Pickwick’s Fish and Chips – Vancouver, BC

Mr.Pickwick’s Fish and Chips
8620 Granville Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 266 2340

Mr Pickwick's Fish & Chips (Granville) on Urbanspoon

To me, in many ways, restaurants can themselves almost be thought of as people. They each have their own personalities, special abilities, unique characteristics, and even credentials. I suppose in some ways, all of the things that you read and hear before your first visit, do help to shape your impressions as if the restaurants were an actual human being that you are interviewing for a job in your company.  I’d like to ask our readers, how much stock do you put in all the accolades that restaurants receive through more “official” channels such as local print and online media, in doing your “reference checks”?

Personally, I’ve always taken these with a grain of salt, or two.  Or three… well, you get the point.  Especially when they are overtly displayed inside the establishment (okay, one or two clippings I don’t mind, but more than that and all framed with pride – a bit overboard) and/or digitized and clearly displayed on their website.  If you’re like me, then Mr. Pickwick’s Fish and Chips might not be called in for an “interview”, as their small space (one of two in the city) was covered in framed certificates from sources such as the Georgia Straight, The WestEnder, and other local business and tourist organizations.  The fact that the business also had a human face associated on all of their branding and signage, made it all the more “personal” – which I think contributed to me feeling like I was not going to like this “person”.

The order board that hangs above the main counter had sort of a retro look with the old school fonts and magnets that are used to list items and their accompanying prices.  The lit up photos of their most popular fish and chips combos, just your regular run-of-the-mill fast food variety.  Being able to see entirely into the small kitchen and prep area, made me think of those narrow spaces that some of those french fry specialty places in shopping malls operate out of.  I’m not sure how it is every day or during more busier times, but the space was occupied by a single person who was doing the phone answering/order taking/frying and bagging duties all alone.

The menu featured the standard choices of fish in the cod (source: North Pacific; incidentally I believe its the eastern Atlantic cod that is facing extinction), halibut (source: Queen Charlotte Islands), haddock and salmon.  These could be ordered as 1pc, 2pc, 3pc and even 10pc sets.  You can also “mix and match” by selecting the West Coast (halibut & salmon), East West (haddock & halibut) or Whitefish (cod/haddock/halibut) set deals. As well, there were other seafood options such as oysters, prawns, clam strips and popcorn shrimp.  Further, probably in an attempt to differentiate themselves, there was a section called “sides and treats” which featured yam chips, poutine, “Newfie” chips, deep fried dill pickles, Mushy peas, and even a Deep Fried Mars Chocolate Bar!

In the end, I went with the tried and true cod and in a hungry mood chose the 3pc set ($10.98).  Personally I find the fattier, buttery texture of cod which “flakes” in larger pieces better and is more pleasing in deep fried food like this, as compared to say halibut (which I tend to associate more as a grilled fish).   The batter was indeed light and crispy as advertised, and I was quite glad as there is nothing worst than a thick, cake-y layer of  deep fried batter that seems more thicker than the actual fillet of fish inside.  The side chips were similarly light but still crispy and definitely not over-fried.  They were not really seasoned however, but I suppose that’s what the self serve packs of salt and pepper were for, but would have hoped they would have done it when they came out of the oil nice and hot, so that it would adhere better.

The tartar sauce which they dub as Rayana’s Tartar Sauce was fairly standard and nothing too different from many other tartar sauces I’ve had over the years with fish and chips.   They did give me a generous two portions with my order though, and two slices of lemons in my take-out order, that was wrapped up in a large sheet of paper and placed in a bio-degradable plastic bag.  I think Mr. Pickwick’s Fish and Chips are playing up their efforts for sustainability, as in the waiting area they had clearly displayed that they were involved in the Oceanwise sustainable seafood program, as well as working in a network called Green Table, which includes restaurants that are working to reduce their operations impacts on the environment… hence all that eco-friendly “packaging”.

I really need to do more exploring in Vancouver for comparable fish and chip offerings, as it seems thats my thing these days.  If you have any, please do drop me a note in the comments section, and I will be pleased to go try them out.

Mr Pickwick's Fish & Chips (Granville) on Urbanspoon