In late 2012 my wife and I were on a search for a good restaurant that served pho. We had tried a bunch of places in Ottawa's Chinatown and thought we found a decent one in Pho Thu Do. We had originally found Pho Thu Do as on our previous attempt at visiting Co Cham, we were unable to find a seat.
Friday evening though, I thought if we attempted a little earlier we quite possibly might find a free table at Co Cham (780 Somerset Street West, Ottawa). We visited at 4:30 P.M. to find the place understandably with only one table seating. We were welcomed by a friendly Asian lady who asked us to choose any table we wished and have a seat. Turns out it may have been the same seat that Ann DeBrisay sat at when she completed her review in 2011.
The first noticeable thing about the restaurant is the well maintained interior of this Asian restaurant compared to it's surrounding neighbours and the traditional stereotype of an Asian restaurant. This place is not the typical Asia rough around the edges and in need of a possible paint job Asian restaurant of Chinatown. Co Cham tenderly cared for immaculately kept glass topped wooden tables and leather chairs that are similar in style to what is found at Jonathan's Fine Foods in Aurora. The table supplies of chopsticks, siracha sauce, napkins also included traditional North American silverware for those requiring it. The walls are neatly painted and adorned with nicely produced Asian style artwork and framed newspaper articles either about the restaurant or about historical events from Vietnam. The floor is the regular linoleum instead of upgraded tile. But the linoleum on the floor is pretty good shape without any broken tiles or issues to be found. My only regret about the interior of this place is not visiting the washroom to see if the upkeep was found there as well.
Shortly after we were seated, a pot of complimentary tea was brought out and placed on the table along with two tea cups.
We perused our menues for five minutes but did have questions. There was one price only for the Pho dishes which was a little puzzling. Normally restaurants that serve pho provide two or three sizing options. But there was only one price on Co Cham's menu which was puzzling. Also, there was a line that indicated if you wanted more than one type of meat you could also have it. But each Pho dish's menu line only had one, thus we were wondering how to order Pho with Beef, Beef Balls and Noodles.
The puzzlement ended when the lady came over to inquire if we had any questions or needed help ordering. We inquired about the portion sizes and how to order the Pho we wanted. The lady explained we could order a single bowl of Pho with whatever we wanted in it by listing the Pho Dish #'s and it would only cost the same as only ordering a single bowl of Pho with no upcharges. We thanked her, but the she hovered for a bit as we wrote down on the order sheet provided what we wanted. We hummed and hawed about the Pho dishes and if we wanted a sandwich as an appetizer. Co Cham is also known for their Vietnamese style sandwiches and for only $2.95 each they are really inexpensive. The lady continued to hover not saying anything awaiting our order which we eventually wrote down and handed to her.
The Order: 1 Pho with Rare Beef and Beef Balls, 1 Pho with Rare Beef, Beef Balls and Tripe and 1 Meatball Sandwich.
The lady disappeared to the kitchen with our order and returned shortly with the Meatball sandwich and a "To Go" bag separate. She inquired if we would like the sandwich now or for later after the meal to take home. We politely replied that we would enjoy the sandwich as an appetizer before the main Pho dishes.
We cut the sandwich in half using a table knife and each took half. The whole sandwich appeared about six inches in length on what appeared to be french bread in style. The meatball sandwich was different compared to the more common Subway Meatball Marinara Italian style sandwich. Instead of the meatballs doused in tomato sauce, there were meatballs with shredded radish and carrots with a garlicky sauce. We had politely declined upon ordering the options of chilies on the sandwich. The sandwich tasted fairly well and for $2.95 was pretty good but not a meal in itself like a Subway sandwich would be. This Vietnamese style sandwich makes for a good appetizer or to accompany something else from the Co Cham Menu.
Our two bowls of Pho arrived shortly after we finished our sandwich. Both sets of Pho were interestingly arranged with the meatballs around edge of the bowl and meat and the noodles in the middle. This was the first time I had seen the ingredients of Pho so intricately arranged.
The Pho bowls themselves were pretty good as well with more noodles than you can shake a chopstick at, decent tasting rare beef and meatballs cut in half. My only gripe was the meatballs were a little slippery when picking them up with the chop sticks. The broth itself was a full tasting non watered down style that other Vietnamese pretending restaurants use. The ingredients in the food, like the restaurant itself, are well thought out and prepared with care.
During my meal, I noticed a couple of things. The lady that showed us to our seats and took our order was very interested and gave the best effort I've seen in a while in serving the customers to the best of her ability even when her English was not that great. When the Pho bowls were brought out it was an older gentleman who brought them to our table and ventured back to what I presumed was the kitchen. When we were finishing up, I observed a boy in grade 7 or 8 bringing out the complimentary tea service to other tables with care. It seems Co Cham is a traditional family owned and operated establishment that only employs family members. These family members, because the care so much about the Co Cham business, present an ambitious and caring environment as opposed to other establishments that hire servers on an hourly basis. Thus, at Co Cham the service is better.
Overall, Co Cham is good Vietnamese style restaurant serving traditional Vietnamese Pho and Sandwiches using the best ingredients they could find. The food is served by caring hands within an above average decorated clean Asian restaurant. This restaurant is like a diamond in the rough of Chinatown. No wonder some days it is hard to find a seat in this small restaurant. Co Cham is not likely to expand as it could end up possibly losing that postive family operated and worked atmosphere.