On Thursday, Bettina and I went to Pho Hoa (9723-106 Avenue) in Chinatown for dinner. It has been years since I dined here, the last time being sometime in high school right after its grand opening. Nothing negative resonates with me from that experience, but this time, I’m sorry to say it left quite the impression.
First of all, trying to enter the restaurant was an ordeal in itself. There were several doors, all but one marked with faded, handwritten signs, or sealed shut with packing tape. Once in the dining room, we were abruptly seated with a curt nod and menus deposited at a random booth – the kind of turn-your-back service seemingly common at Chinese ethnic eateries.
I must say – the owners really let the place deteriorate. The seats and floors were dirty, and table legs were steadied with wads of paper napkins. Lighting was poor, with peripheral seats near the windows left in the dark with poor placement of overhead fluorescent bulbs. And though it must have been the same way all those years ago, I had forgotten about the communal chopstick and soup spoon jar. Still, with one glance at the rest of the place, the utensils begged for a personal scrubbing with the tea, Hong Kong style.
The waitress clearly had a low English proficiency. When asked, with the aid of hand gestures, about the thickness of the steak, her reply was “No.” Similarly, a clarification about the vegetables included in one of the dishes was left unanswered as well. Needless to say, ordering by number came to be quite handy. I did find the menus amusing though, with pictures and descriptions about the types of soup bowls offered; essentially, it was “pho for dummies.” I ordered the Pho Bo Vien (noodle soup with meatballs), while Bettina chose the Pho Tai (noodle soup with eye round steak).
One positive – the food did arrive lightning quick, definitely in less than five minutes. The portion size was noticeably smaller than Pagolac’s version, but even more egregious – the soup base was nearly flavorless. My friend had to resort to hoisin sauce as an additive. To me, the broth had an odd aroma that I couldn’t quite place. And no, I don’t think it had anything to do with beef.
We had chosen Pho Hoa on a whim. Not surprisingly, we won’t make that mistake again.