In my wife and my continuous search for Vietnamese Pho places in Ottawa, we stopped off on Friday for dinner at Saigon Boy Noodle House (648 Somerset Street West, Ottawa).
We arrived at 4:30 P.M. to a restaurant with only one other customer in it. A little disturbing but it was early. My wife and I have learned that if it is before 5 P.M. on a Friday evening, it is fine if a restaurant is not that busy. Most Ottawa restaurants start filling up after 5 P.M. for dinners. We have noticed that at a couple of restaurants where we thought things might be questionable because there was nobody inside but turned out well.
We entered and were immediately seated by a twenty something young Asian man with perfect English. He followed up with the usual complimentary tea. He returned to the kitchen to fetch a couple of items and could be heard speaking Cantonese (dialect of Chinese) to someone working in the kitchen.
We looked through the menus and noted the prices for Pho ($9.25 for a large) seemed a little more expensive than both Co Cham and Pho Thu Do. I was debating on ordering the medium size instead as perhaps the large was simply to large. My wife would have none of it because if we are going to compare the other Pho places we had previously visited, where we had ordered a large, we needed to order the large here as well. So we did.
The Order: 1 Pho with Rare Beef and Beef balls with rice noodles. 1 Pho with Rare Beef, Beef Balls and tripe with rice noodles.
We looked around the Saigon Boy Noodle House. It was quite modern looking with newish looking ceramic tile floors, modern wooden tables and plastic chairs. Even the artwork looked carefully selected. The restaurant itself looked clean, well kept and family run. On the door to the restaurant even had the parking metre times for when payment was required and when it was not. The inside looked well run, uncluttered and unworn unlike other typical Asian restaurants.
Our Pho dishes came quickly with the Asian gentleman providing excellent service.
The Pho itself needed a little help. For any good Pho dish you need to start with quality beef broth that has taste to it followed up by quality beef and other items as per customer order. The beef broth at Saigon Boy Noodle House was bland and didn't have any taste to it. The broth at both Co Cham, Pho Thu Do in Ottawa and Pho Xe Lua in Toronto have a beefy taste to it. The noodles as well were just run of the mill noodles that you could also find at any other pho place on Somerset Street West in Ottawa's Chinatown. The meatballs and rare beef were also nothing to sneeze at in terms of quality or quantity.
Quantity wise, the Pho at Saigon Boy Noodle House is hard to beat. The Large bowl is huge! I felt like it was just short of a bucket full of Pho. Yes, the beefy ingredients weren't skimped on either, there was definitely enough rare beef and noodles to go around.
The tea was also a little disappointing. Sure it was the regular Asian tea served at most Asian food places, but this was lukewarm. Any Brit will tell you that tea should not be poured unless it is boiling hot right from the kettle. Apparently this little but important tidbit was missed.
We left Saigon Boy Noodle House a little perplexed. They have a better modernized interior like Co Cham with a family run business. The Pho beef broth though was bland which takes away a lot from the restaurant. The other ingredients (i.e. noodles, rare beef and beef balls) were merely average. With so much competition in the immediate vicinity serving Pho, mediocrity simply isn't good enough. Add in lukewarm tea, and things get even worse. We may wait a while to return, unless we find another better Pho location.
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