For Friday dinner my wife and I headed over to Ottawa's Chinatown to visit a decently recommended restaurant slightly off the popular path of Somerset Street West. Just to the south of Somerset on Booth Street is Huong's Vietnamese Bistro (343 Booth Street, Ottawa).
Huong's Vietnamese Bistro was positively reviewed in 2011 by the Ottawa Citizen's Food Critic Ann DesBrisay and in the Ottawa Magazine by Shawna Wagman. As well, Huong's was also consistently highly rated on Urbanspoon.com. So I thought we should test it out to see if it could still be good in 2013.
We arrived at 4:30 P.M. to find a restaurant that seemed with an ambiance stuck in the 1960s. The only thing that seemed at all modern was the newspaper reviews framed on the walls from the 2000s. The glass top tables with decorative fabric table cloths and more copies of the newspaper reviews underneath were a nice touch though.
The service declined from pretty good to poor by the end of our meal. There was one server on hand who appeared to be a daughter of the owner of the restaurant. At first she was attentive in welcoming us and leaving us with the menus and some usual Asian complimentary tea service. She was also good at gathering the menus and delivering our order to the kitchen and later bringing the food out. But then things fell through the floor from there. It felt we were a burden to her as she seemed more interested in her cell phone or computer rather than serving the customers. She didn't stop by once to see if everything was good after dropping off our food. We would have also resorted to an air horn to get her attention that we would like the bill when our meal was finished. She seemed consumed by whatever electronic gadgetry she had on hand.
The food was another issue...
The Order: 1 Large Pho with rare beef, beef balls and noodles. 1 Large Pho with rare beef, beef balls, noodles and tripe.
The Pho came quickly, but it should as we were now the only table being served. The previous table that was there had left shortly after we ordered. No problem with the speed of the food, but the quantity and taste seemed to be issues.
Quantity wise the first indication was when the plate of bean sprouts was brought out. At other nearby Vietnamese restaurants like Pho Thu Do and Co Cham a regular size plate is brought out heaped in bean sprouts and other Asian vegetables. At Huong's a half size plate is served of the bean sprouts and other veggies. Next is the Pho dishes themselves. The Large size appears to be a regular Vietnamese restaurant's Medium size. Thus less Pho is served but, to be fair, the price of $7.50 for a Large Pho at Huong's is a $2.00 cheaper on average than at nearby Vietnamese locales.
Taste wise the Pho is hit and miss. The beef broth is outstanding and is probably one of the best in Ottawa's Chinatown. The rare beef though was borderline overcooked and rubbery. The beef balls as well had apparently been sitting in the broth too long. The ingredients seemed to have been put in the beef broth and left to sit throughout the afternoon waiting to be served up.
Overall, Huong's Vietnamese Bistro had rave reviews by food critics in Ottawa back in 2011. Fresh and well prepared dishes were raved about. Fast forward to 2013, things appear to have slipped in food and service preparation. A Vietnamese restaurant that cannot serve Pho, the national dish of Vietnam, with fresh ingredients accompanied by tasty beef broth should not call itself a true "Vietnamese Restaurant". Huong's Vietnamese Bistro served at best mediocre Pho. This would have acceptable elsewhere but with Ottawa's Chinatown having numerous Vietnamese restaurants, mediocre quite frankly isn't good enough. It is sad really when a good restaurant goes downhill and that is exactly what has occurred at Huong's.
Thank you Bill McCutcheon
1 hour ago