Dining out: Vietnamese comfort food a tasty refuge from the big freeze

The Satay pho at Pho Van Vietnamese Restaurant. Bill Kaufmann / Postmedia

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Pho Van Vietnamese Restaurant

2110-4 Royal Vista Way N.W. 403-241-5511

It was one of the frostiest nights of the year and we set out for some steaming comfort food.

One obvious solution is Vietnamese food — pho in particular — and all that comes with it.

About a month ago, Pho Van kicked off its second location in Calgary, this one in a spanking new building in the Royal Vista business park that’s a bit of a construction zone.

The place is roomy, bright and unadorned; perhaps a few decorative touches will come in time.

A warm greeting we received continued throughout our stay as did the quick and efficient service.

Pho Van has all the Vietnamese menu mainstays so familiar throughout Calgary, though a few unique offerings are in the mix.

One of those are the onion cakes ($7.30), essentially two large, snipped savoury doughnuts with a lightly crispy exterior and doughy insides.

Their green onion accents, slightly chewy texture and muted sweetness won us over.

Onion cakes – an Edmonton favourite that needs a bit more Calgary love. Bill Kaufmann / Postmedia

“These are way more popular in Edmonton than here — I don’t think anyone else in Calgary has them,” said our host.

They’re definitely a rarity in this town, I agreed. Pity.

Our hosts also offer an unusually large variety of Vietnamese beverages — milk, coconut and watermelon teas along with fruit slushes and bubble drinks.

Hina latched on to a passion fruit slush with popping strawberry bubbles ($5.50), a fun drink.

Its sweetness was at a high pitch, as was the deliciousness, and the strawberry bubbles exploded in the mouth.

Passion fruit slush. Bill Kaufmann / Postmedia

A round of prawn salad rolls delivered a trio of tautly wound cylinders bulging with vermicelli noodles and seafood ($7.40).

Meanwhile, Hina dug into a large bowl of rare beef ball pho ($12) well-stocked with pinkish meat and a savoury-fragrant flavour.

Rare beef ball pho. Bill Kaufmann / Postmedia

Mizue’s bowl of bun, or vermicelli, was loaded with deliciously marinated beef, grilled shrimp and spring rolls over which she poured a cup of fish sauce.

Supplying some crunch was crushed peanuts, cucumber and shredded carrots.

Shrimp, beef and spring roll bun. Bill Kaufmann / Postmedia

This was a lot of food and became part of a considerable take-out haul that would be lunch enough for all of us the next day.

I dipped my chopsticks and porcelain spoon into a selection I hadn’t seen before — the big stick noodle soup with sliced pork ($13.95).

Big stick noodle soup. Bill Kaufmann / Postmedia

This sported a gently flavoured pork broth fringed with romaine lettuce that took on the accents of its fresh basil, deep-fried onions and other veggies.

Thin slices of pork floated on the broth and I dredged up little bits of ground chicken hiding among its slippery thick rice noodles.

We’d have been negligent if we didn’t sample our favourite of the phos — the spicy satay ($11.50).

Pho Van’s version eschews peanuts but has the spicy zest and generous portions of beef we crave.

But its broth doesn’t have the rich texture and substance that we find in our favourite satay pho.

All in all, Pho Van was a flavourful and friendly encounter that made facing the Arctic vortex a tad less daunting.

 

Three-and-a-half stars (out of five)

Vietnamese cuisine

PRICE: entrees around $14

LICENSED: yes

DRESS: casual

HOURS: 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.-Thurs.; 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat.

CREDIT CARDS: yes

WHEELCHAIRS:

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