Location: 105, 401 – 9th Avenue SW
Seeing as this restaurant is only about a block away from my office, I thought after about 5 months of seeing it everyday, that I ought to try it out. It was a kind of impromptu decision, but Alex made us a reservation the morning of and we were able to be seated fairly quickly (once they noticed us at least).
As with all restaurants, I like to look at the menu before and and the site stated that there was a slight chance that the downtown location could have a different menu with slightly different prices (aka more expensive because it is expensive to do business/rent a location downtown, plus all the “rich” business people working down there). So it was a more general idea of what I wanted slash seeing if the downtown location had the things I had chosen off of the menu on their website.
I started off with the shrimp salad rolls, which I shared with Alex. They consisted of A LOT of vermicelli and not much else. Having grown up with making my own at home and stuffing it full of meat and veggies rather than vermicelli (even though I do love my carbs), this seemed to be very expensive for a roll of carbs served with hoisin mixed with a sriracha style hot sauce, topped with peanuts. I couldn’t even figure out where the shrimps were! The University of Calgary salad rolls from La Prep are even better than the ones here!
For our mains I ordered the Sate Beef Pho and Alex had the Grilled Pork Vermicelli. When the dishes arrived I was both offended and delighted by the size of the veggie accompaniment (bean sprouts). I’m used to going to Vietnamese restaurants that give at least four times that amount with a lime and basil, so offended was my first reaction, but then my sense kicked in because I don’t actually eat that much of the bean sprout and hardly any basil that it was probably better they didn’t waste it on me anyways. I was still offended it was a lemon rather than a lime because it completely changes the flavour profile. The other thing that irked me was that there was no dish for me to put my hoisin sauce in to dip the meat into and the spoon was way too small for me to be able to balance the food on and put on it without it slipping into the soup (so I eventually had to put it in the spoon and then grab the meat to dip it, but it was also annoying I had to pick up the bottle every single time I wanted some hoisin). When it came to taste, I really don’t think it was sate; it was more like chili flakes in soup, but other than that the broth was really well developed and flavourful. But just because it wasn’t sate didn’t mean it wouldn’t burn you. At first it was like, oh ok, this is alright, but after a long time (since the soup is hot temperature wise and hot spicy wise), it gets to you. Then of course my body likes to exaggerate (just like me) how spicy it actually is by full on crying and runny nose and make me look like I’m really suffering. The other thing I really loved was the texture of the noodles. Maybe it was because I was really craving noodles or they truly are superior noodles, but they were so good! The presentation was interesting; I was intrigued by the bowl shape, but as usual, way too much soup.
Alex’s Grilled Pork Vermicelli is her Vietnamese restaurant staple; one that she orders at every Vietnamese restaurant she goes to. It looks like a typical grilled pork vermicelli, nothing special. I watched as she poured on the nước mắm over the dish and then then that turned to horror when she grabbed the hoisin sauce and drizzled it all over her vermicelli and pork. I’ve never understood why people put hoisin on there. I probably should’ve asked, but the most logical answer would probably be “it tastes good,” but me being me, growing up on homemade nước mắm and vermicelli it seems very odd and feels very wrong. Also, it seemed weird that she wouldn’t mix it all up. She just ate it, working from one side of the plate to the other, which is also not something I am used to. So this was an interesting experience for me. I wouldn’t say it was wrong, but it was definitely different.
We both ordered the iced coffee and unlike what I’m used to at Vietnamese restaurants, they brought out the already mixed coffee (I’m used to them bringing out the thing to drip the coffee into a glass cup that has condensed milk on the bottom of the cup and then pouring it over the ice myself). I completely understand the reasoning why they would choose not to do this, the first being what a mess it would make and the second being that this is downtown and if they’re expecting us to pay them more, then they have to provide the service of a slightly higher class.
Although this place isn’t exactly wheelchair accessible from the entrance we entered in from, I’m sure there is a way to get in through the Gulf Canada building, but I don’t know for certain.
Overall, I would recommend this place and I would definitely come back. The service was quick and the servers were polite enough, checking in at the appropriate times to make sure everything was to our liking. I know that a coworker of mine came here last week, but didn’t have as great of an experience. They went to lunch at their usual time, noon, ordered, but their food didn’t arrive until 12:45 and they had to shovel down their food. She said that she got sick from doing that, but still thought the food was really good. Based on my experience today, I would give this place a 3.75/5.