“This is it?”
“I’ve driven down this street hundreds of times and have never noticed it before!”
The Golden Bird (10544 97 Street) features a storefront so aged that it literally blends with its surroundings, resembling one of those sad ghosts of a business that reflects only a past of prosperity. Of course, even if the exterior didn’t suffer from neglect, the surrounding block of merchants would make it difficult to maintain the sheen expected of a restaurant with a name that conjures up images of phoenixes in flight. Still, the reputation of The Golden Bird precedes itself; coworkers of both Dickson and I have personally recommended their brand of Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine to us.
On Thursday, we made our way to Chinatown, found some parking at the rear of the building, and walked inside. As my colleague had warned me, the interior was in serious need of a Restaurant Makeover. I didn’t mind their penchant for outdated and cheap art (Kim Andersen prints), but I do think that their furniture could use a major overhaul. Dirty from years of use, the chairs were coated with grime. The tables were topped with glass, and underneath, as custom with many ethnic eateries, were copies of outdated reviews from local news media. The articles indicated The Golden Bird does most of its business at lunch (both takeout and dining in), which seemed to be true, as the restaurant had just two patrons as we sat down. But through the course of our meal, other tables filled up with families, groups of friends, and couples, most of them appearing to be regulars.
The menu featured standard Vietnamese and Chinese fare (and interestingly named dishes, such as the 5 Colour on Rice or Vermicelli), but as Dickson and I are both pho enthusiasts, we jumped straight to the noodle soup section. My decision was an easy one – I always opt for the bowl featuring medium rare sliced beef ($7.50), while Dickson typically selects whatever the house special is. In this case, it was the Golden Bird Beef Noodle Soup ($8.50), with all kinds of meat but no egg. For comparison purposes, we also added an order of green onion cakes ($3.95).
Asian restaurants are known for two things: cheap eats and quick kitchen-to-table service. The Golden Bird was no different. Our green onion cakes arrived promptly, still glistening from their deep-fried treatment. I found the cake itself to be quite doughy, and needing just a tad more salt, but they were still a satisfying and promising start to our meal.
Our noodle soup bowls arrived even before we had a chance to finish our appetizer, steaming hot and inviting on a winter’s night. Shredded cilantro, green onion slices and slivers of red onions floated on top in a lovely medley of fragrance and flavour. I was a tad disappointed in the small quantity and toughness of the meat, but the broth, savoury and coming perilously close to matching Pagolac’s perfection, made up for it somewhat.
Neither Dickson nor I were willing to concede the southside Pagolac’s pho crown, but we do believe that The Golden Bird will provide a tasty and pleasing alternative to pho lovers in the downtown core.