Oops, Pho Pas!*
Okay, I feel a bit duped. I should have known better. I could tell something was up. I saw some subtle signs that made my foodie senses tingle. Of course, I didn't pay enough attention to them. Little details about the appearance seemed a bit out of place. The sign out front was gone. The prices had gone up. Some of the tackiest neon decorations were missing and I think the tables changed their cloths like they were trying to impress a different person. I was suspicious and confronted the server about it - I came right out and asked if there was someone else...new owners maybe, or new manager... but he didn't understand my question, and so I didn't really get an answer. Miscommunication. Maybe we can still make this work, I thought to myself. Maybe I'm being paranoid. I should give this a chance. I went ahead and sat down in the completely empty Vinada Vietnamese Restaurant
(1260 Robson St, between Bute and Jervis) and hoped for the best. I've spent many a happy quick meal here before...maybe their management is different, but it still might be good, I thought. But things have changed. This is not my "beautiful" pho shop. Okay, the shop was never that beautiful, I have to admit, but the food was. Unfortunately, it's the food that has really changed, and the shop looks more or less the same.
Though, once you've sat down, there's really no turning back, is there? I had an uneasy feeling about it, but I kept talking each of the red flags down to size. None of the old servers were anything to pine over (it always seemed to be someone's kid who didn't really know how to interact with people), so maybe they just changed staff, I thought optimistically. That's not a bad thing. And the guy that was there there actually seemed like a slight improvement. I saw that they are still using the same extensive menu (same choices, same photos), just with the prices bumped up. After all, it IS Robson Street, tourist central right in the middle of the Olympic hooplah, so paying a bit more than your typical pho shop isn't really that surprising. It's still going to be cheaper than the average meal in the area. I'll pay ten bucks for my vermicelli combo with those fluffy-crisp roll dips that I get the urge for once in a while.
Hell, if I've dragged my friend, Chicken Curry Man all over Burnaby on a desperate 3 am quest for one, an extra buck is not really that much trouble. I'm sure you can picture it: we're driving out to the 'burbs to satisfy a very specific craving, and found ourselves on a wacky adventure, facing all manner of obstacles (well, except for running into Neil Patrick Harris...that would have been cool) and those other spring rolls would just not do. I need the thick ones with the bubbly crispy wrapper and stuffed with vermicelli. Yes, it could have been a fantastically fresh road trip movie with the rare Chinese and Southeast Asian representation: "Dumpling Girl and Chicken Curry Man Go To Pho House"...nahhh, a movie like that would never work, eh?
Anyhow, back on track. Normally, I try to focus on reviews of restaurants that I have enjoyed and generally recommend. I’m not really sadistic, and I know that the Vancouver restaurant business is tough enough without every yahoo online nitpicking every minor detail of every restaurant experience. But today, I feel like I actually need to warn people about this place...think of it as a friendly neighbourhood public service announcement from me to you. I don't want anyone else who might have gone to the previous place to feel cheated or misled. I've been there many a time in the past, but not for quite a few months, and went in expecting a nice, solid Vietnamese vermicelli combo. I mean, it's not rocket science, is it? Even all the mall food court Vietnamese stands make something I like to eat, though not quite as large, fresh, and tasty as a bowl made to order at this place before the change.
I still got free tea. But the bowl came out with the greasiest spring rolls that I have ever had in a restaurant, even though they are still using the old menu that pictures the roll dip. No fresh crunch bean sprouts were there. The lettuce and veggies were okay, but it seemed like it the cucumber was pickled instead of crisp and fresh. The worst part was the grilled pork. It had the look and dried out consistency of something that had been left out from the night before and re-microwaved, rather than the succulent treat that freshly grilled pork should be. The rice noodles were fine, and maybe it was me, but they felt a bit old too. They did include two large prawns with the meal which were okay. And there was plenty of everything. And, yes, I ate it. But it is NOT in the same league as the place before, and I would rather have food from a food court. I actually felt badly for being visible in the window as various tourists passed by the place contemplating it for dinner. I wanted to have a sign to wave around saying, "No! I am not recommending this place, I was duped! This is not representative of the quality of ethnic cuisine in town."
Anyhow, I can't see it lasting the way it is now. I imagine they'll still get lots of walk-by traffic from unsuspecting tourists (which I think is sad, because you can hardly walk a block downtown without bumping into something worthwhile to eat). The least I can do is warn my dear Nancylanders, and hope the restaurant people either figure things out (like how to get the oil in their deep fryer to the right temperature so that the spring rolls don't come out greasy), or that someone else takes a shot at that location.
In contrast, change of management does not have to be a bad thing. On a happier note, I have just come out of La Crepe Bretagne just a couple of blocks away on Jervis St., off Robson (another old favourite that I haven’t been to in a while), and while there’s new management there, you can still get the same yummy crepes that were there before.
*Just a note to say that the correct pronunciation
of pho (with a short “uh” sound) wrecks the intended French pun (there are plenty of French influences in Vietnamese food because of the country's French colonial history), unlike the much better and just as appropriate “What the Pho?” but I didn’t want to steal the line from the Seattle establishment that Bleuet told me about. Bottom line, Vinada is all pho’d up now.
Yummy-a-Day: Chirashi Don at Oysi Oysi
I just had a fantastic chirashi don (about $15) at Oysi Oysi (1136 Alberni St. @Thurlowe St., 604-682-0011) and I was very surprised at what a great experience it all was. I haven't gone to Oysi Oysi in years, and remembered it as being mediocre food. I feel like it's a completely different place now. The service was extremely attentive for this price range, and the chirashi don was very tasty and reasonably priced. My tea was thoughtfully refilled throughout the evening. The sashimi fish tasted fresh and cut properly. The rice is flavoured with shredded seaweed, mushroom bits and pickle bits. They even gave me a nice little complimentary ice cream afterwards. I stopped by after swimming tonight, and felt completely cosy there - the room is fairly quiet and relaxed, the food network (with close captioning) was on the tv, I got hot tea right away, and there were plenty of things to choose from in the brightly photographed menu. In fact, they even have some Chinese dishes there, making it a great place to graze on lots of small dishes and I can even supplement my meal with an order of garlic gai-lan! I find I tend to miss getting enough greens when dining in Japanese restaurants, so I am all for the non-Japanese dishes being on the menu. If you haven't been to Oysi Oysi for a while, I think it's definitely worth checking out again.
Little Bandidas Tacqueria is Growing Up!
(2781 Commercial Drive at 12th Ave., 604-568-8224) celebrated their one year anniversary with a great little party, with cheap drinks, free tacos, and a fantastic band called The Creaking Planks
(gotta love their accordian rich, jug band covers like Beastie Boys' Fight for Your Right to Party
, Talking Heads' Psycho Killer
and NIN's Closer
and their real washtub base). Bandidas is a vegetarian restaurant that does delicious modern takes on Mexican and Mexi-cali food (like nachos and burritos). They use tasty things like roasted pineapple, and spiced breaded walnuts, which make the food fun and satisfying even for a someone with my carnivorous habits. It's run by an eco-conscious group, and has a nice casual vibe making it pleasant to hang out for a while and drink their cheap sangria ($8 for a half litre, $15 litre) amongst the mis-matched furniture, bicycles, and vintage lamps. They're open for brunch and dinner, have super friendly staff, and great veggie and vegan friendly food at great prices.
In an effort to get myself back on the blogging wagon, I am going to try posting even when I don't have time to do a full review or article. I'll try to make little quick notes in the evenings about one notably yummy food or drink item that I've consumed during the day.
Today's yummy-a-day is "The Sunriser" breakfast at Kyle's Cafe (2627 Commercial Drive at 10th Avenue, 604-872-5885) one of my favourite regular breakfast haunts. Nice quiet spot where you can get Chinese and "Canadian" cuisine, both of good quality. The Sunriser has two eggs, two bacon, two sausage, hash browns, toast, and two pancakes! It's a huge breakfast for a nice start to a day off, and with bottomless coffee plus tax and tip, I've filled up for the whole day for about $10 (it's more of a brunch for me than just breakfast). They have a breakfast special for $2.95 without the pancakes which is also fantastic value (I think the Sunriser is about $5.95).
A lot of people express a great love for the breakfast special at nearby Bon's Off Broadway. For the same price at Kyle's, you can get a better tasting coffee, that is actually served and refilled for you by the server; you never have to line up for a table (this is huge for me - lining up for my first coffee and food of the morning is just not my style); you never really have to wait for service, and you get a fairly quiet, mellow room with sunny yellow walls and natural light coming in. Sure, you don't get the eclectic atmosphere of Bon's, but I'm sure there's some student that you know living in a messy, dark basement suite with movie posters on the wall that you can visit if you really need your fix. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy Bon's, but most days, I'd rather hit Kyle's Cafe. Oh, and I like their house special chow mein too.
Chocolate & Zucchini