Nguyen Phi offers some good, honest pho
Rumours of a good pho had reached my ears. The soup is also known as Tonkinoise soup, named for the northern region of Vietnam, and used to be a revitalizing morning soup, until scarce years turned it into a luxury to be enjoyed on Sundays or when sick.
Fortunately our lot is to be able to enjoy pho for lunch at Nguyen Phi, a mid-sized, bustling, second-floor restaurant. If you sit facing towards the back you see fish in a tank, towards the front you gaze upon bonsai trees in the window and Kent Park’s playground across the street. Wherever you sit, you’re surrounded by vibrant green walls (and Asian synth-country music over the sound system). I grew dreamy looking at the stunning photo of Vietnamese mountains wrapped around the cash counter.
My pal chose the tripe and tendon pho, the bowl arriving with a simple plate of accompaniments – lime, a couple of chilies and Thai basil. White ruffled ribbons of tripe and knobs of translucent tendon jostled among the rice noodles in a clove-heavy broth. Those nervous about eating organ meats should know that Nguyen Phi’s tripe and tendon were quite mild in flavour, a good "starter offal" for newbies looking to dip their tastebuds into something beyond mammal muscle. The flavours mellowed further with time, the clove softening with the addition of lime, the star anise whispering. The overall impression is of a good, honest pho.
I had a lunch special of beef on rice, with imperial rolls. At first I worried the rolls were overdone, being a darker shade of brown than I expected, but instead they were beautifully crisp, and the load of carrot shreds mixed with the meat gave a sweet, robust note. The dipping sauce was a gentle mix of sweet and salty. But the rice was a bit mushy, the beef okay but not great.
For a bit of sly fun, we ordered the three-colour drink, made of white coconut milk with layers of firm green jelly, red beans and a creamy-yellow mung bean paste that had a warm, perfumey vanilla taste. When my pal first saw it, his expression registered mild disgust and trepidation. But then he began to beam like a child at its textural playfulness and sweetness. "It grows on you!" he exclaimed. My iced coffee was on the bitter side, but I love the mix of creamy condensed milk, ice and strong brew.
6260 Côte-des-Neiges, 514-344-1863
Meal for two: $20-$30