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Pho Phuong - Vietnamese Fine Dining

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  • flipp Dec 22, 2006 10:18 PM

This is a new restaurant that has opened on the south side of Dundas just east of Brock - a bit of a wasteland for dining. The menu has pretty standard Vietnamese fare at pretty standard prices. The 'fine dining' part refers to the decor - definitely a great deal more stylish than your average Vietnamese joint.

I have been three times and found both the pho and the beef with vermicelli to be above average. The deep fried spring rolls are light and tasty, with the thinest wrap I've ever encountered. Worth a try if you're in the neighbourhood or want to try a Vietnamese restaurant with a modern touch. Would be interested to hear if others have had good experiences there.

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  1. I've eaten there quite a few times. The vermicelli dishes are great, but the portions are smaller than what I'm used to at my regular Vietnamese haunts.
    The room is nice, more like an upscale place in Saigon.
    On my first trip Susur and his wife were at the next table and seemed to be enjoying their meal.

    1. So this is "Vietnamese fine dining," as in same kind of Viet fare from any typical Viet restaurant but in nicer decor than most?

      My question is: what are the prices like? I'd rather go to some joint with inexpensive prices and good food than some place that is spruced up but with jacked-up prices for smaller portions.

      Vietnamese dining here seems to be relegated to either the innumerable causal pho joints, or gimmicky places like Saigon Sister at Yonge/Bloor that is pricey but not really inventive (i.e., all style, no substance). There doesn't seem to be a place that applies an interpretive approach to classic Vietnamese dishes and ingredients.

      5 Replies
      1. re: ah123

        Lalot at 200 Bathurst just north of Queen applies an interpretive approach to classic Vietnamese dishes....and it's the only upscale Vietnamese restaurant I've found in TO.
        The claypot catfish was particularly memorable.

        1. re: spaetzle

          According to Toronto.com, dinner for two at Lalot runs about $100-150. It said the place serves up "traditional Vietnamese cuisine." What exactly is it making and how that would justify paying $150 for dinner for two at a Vietnamese restaurant? From the picture, it doesn't quite look like the Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi.

          1. re: ah123

            I think we paid around $100 for 3 people at Lalot. But we didn't have anything to drink. We ordered about 3 small plates to share, and a few large plates to share, as well as a mango soup for dessert. It's a contemporary place with minimalist decor, nice place settings, cloth napkins and fresh takes on traditional Vietnamese food. It certainly is not trying to be a hotel in a 5 star restaurant in Hanoi. I think of it as an Vietnamese alternative to any of the other contemporary upscale restaurants on West Queen West or King West, such as Banu, San, Irie, Blowfish, Czehoski etc. The pricing is comparable to any of those restaurants, as is the service, and quality of the food. I would think most people are paying between $100 and $150 for 2 at most of the nicer places in the neighbourhood.

            It is definitely a very different experience than you would get in a most Vietnamese restaurants in Toronto. I don't remember seeing any pho or bun on the menu.

            1. re: spaetzle

              Hmm... thanks for the report. I'll suggest it to my friend in Riverdale who had lived in Hanoi and bemoans the lack of authentic Hanoi cuisine, or anything different than the typical pho joint, here in Toronto. It would be interesting to try one where pho or bun is not the typical choice.

              1. re: ah123

                What about Hanoi 3 Seasons on Gerrard East?

      2. The prices are pretty much the same as the other half a dozen Vietnamese places I go to in the west end. It may be 50 cents more here or there for some things I guess. I think Koknia may have a point about the vermicelli portions, but a large pho is just as gigantic as anywhere else.

        1. Yeah, the pho is the same as everywhere and the prices are fine. I like their use of lots of mint and nicely grilled meat in the 'bun' (vermicelli dishes). There's just not quite enough of it.

          1. I've been there once as well, and will return. We found the portions and price points more or less similar to other pho places, and the decor a definite draw. I had the pork vermicelli with spring roll, my boyfriend had pho with rare beef, tripe and tendon. The vermicelli was good, although the pork was overcooked (nice spice though). Loved the spring roll as well. The pho was good, meat was properly cooked, although the noodles could have been chewier (this is a standard complaint at most pho places though:)). we also had the green mango salad - if you like vietnamese style ham, you'll enjoy it (there is quite a lot in it). the salad is properly tart, not a huge portion but a decent size starter. overall, a good dining experience.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Kasia

              The noodles aren't suppose to be chewy, I'm guessing you mean al dente. For the best pho they should actually be using fresh noodles, which are definitely not 'chewy'.

              How does this place compare to Golden Turtle?

              1. re: KAREN

                it's really a matter of taste, i diidn't mean to imply their noodles aren't 'correct.' don't think they're using fresh noodles though.

            2. Have had a few more good meals here since my original post and one bad one. Avoid trying the Pad Thai, which I probably should have guessed at a Vietnamese place. Live and learn.

              1. Pho Phuong is a very nice new space. They did a great job both generating suspense (that brown paper was up for quite a while) as well as the actual execution. It is definitely nicer inside than most pho places.

                The food is, as indicated, perhaps a cut above average. The food is not, as noted, "fine" Vietnamese dining. It is merely Vietnamese staples with a nicer than average decor. Fine Vietnamese dining is generally both (i) heavily influenced by French cooking (i will not bother with a history lesson here); and (ii) virtually non-existent in North America. Most of us are familiar with Pho, Bun and other readily available dishes (I actually love grilled pork and fried eggs on rice).

                There are a number of other Vietnamese restaurants in that area. Pho Duc Hoa Restaurant is just around the corner (and Danny the owner is almost always there with a smile after a hard day at his law office while his wife does the heavy lifting). Cafe Dong Phuong is very close by on the other side of the street.

                Someone else noted that Pho Phuong uses more mint than most places. I second that emotion - just order their Fresh Rolls (which is generally how I compare and distinguish Vietnamese restaurants). At Pho Phuong they are lovely, with sectioned shrimp, pork and plenty of fresh mint. As for the portions, I ordered the LARGE pho last time I was there and it was massive.

                Since I am a little farther West, I tend to drop in at Pho Nho at 2060 Dundas West, on the north side where Lynd and Howard Park converge. A very funny place with a good mix of local drunks and good food.

                CK

                1. this restaurant sounds interesting..
                  1 question: where exactly is this place? I didn't realize that Dundas and Brant intersect - any guidance or an address would be great.
                  Thanks!
                  Alek

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Alektoronto

                    Alek, it's Dundas St. West and Brock, not Brant. 1603 Dundas West to be exact, between Dufferin and Lansdowne.

                  2. Your question about the Golden Turtle.
                    We have stopped going there.
                    I thought it was the best Viet. around.
                    I have reviewed it here very positively.
                    But..no matter how hard I have tried, they insist on bringing out all of the food at one time.
                    It is a matter of what should we eat cold.
                    Not worth the fuss.

                    1. I found this board when I Googled Pho Phuong. We live a few blocks away from it and ate there for the first time on Saturday. We are already planning on going back.

                      We had hot spring rolls, beef rolls that we assembeled ourselves and an onion pancake. It was all excellent, expecially the pancake which came out sizzling hot and nicely crispy.

                      Not only did they have a large amount of mint but an impressive variety including one type of mint that had leaves as big as the palm of my hand.

                      We had two servers, one was very abrupt and one was very pleasant and knowledgable. I hadn't eaten Vietnamese in a long time so it was nice to have someone patient to answer my questions. The menu is not designed for people who are not used to Vietnamese food and since I am originally from California the Vietnamese food I am used to is a little different.

                      1. I live around the corner and we eat there at least once a week.

                        The good:
                        The food is fresh and tasty.
                        Generous herb portions.
                        Pleasant decor.
                        Friendly service.
                        Fair prices.
                        Excellent spring rolls.
                        Excellent fresh rolls.

                        The bad:
                        The kitchen is slow when busy - really slow. When we went with six people some of us had finished their dishes before the others had even been served. Drinks were served almost at the end of our dinner. They have improved recently, but not by much. When it's just my wife and myself we normally do get served at the same time.

                        The vermicelli portions are on the small side.

                        They have recently introduced a second, Thai inspired menu that is, in my opinion, on the expensive side.

                        1. The XL Pho is a true Extra Large! I found that many Pho houses in Toronto after a time tend to either downsize their bowls or cut back on the Meat.

                          Vermicelli dishes are covered in fresh greens and well grilled meats ith the classic sauce

                          "Broken Rice" dishes are good staple for every day meals.

                          The Decor is modern and elegant! Seen many tables of groups of friends or just couples.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: berniec

                            Dohh spoke too soon!
                            I've been there 3 times in a week and 3rd time have XL pho and it was mostly soup and 3/4 of everything else. I'm hoping this is just a blimp and they are not falling into the same pattern like all the other Pho houses

                          2. So is this place still good?? Always been curious, some pics I've seen look real good. Mainly, I'm interested in grilled meats, interesting creations, etc. - not Pho per se.

                            How much is a typical bill for say 2 people, no booze....??

                            Thanks for any info!

                            25 Replies
                            1. re: magic

                              I agree...the atmosphere is indeed modern and not "dumpy" at all. A pleasant change from other pho places I have visited. However the service was beyond slow, even though the place was practically empty. As for the pho - it was ok...not as good as other places.
                              Not sure I would return. OK..I know Im not returning. LOL...I will go back to my other fave spots..i.e golden turtle, and pho mi asia at keele/wilson.

                              1. re: domesticgodess

                                Hmm, ok then, thanks for the update...

                                1. re: magic

                                  try pho my duyen, it also has a similar modernized look. I find the food there better than pho phuong, especially the pho.

                                  As I've stated before, pho phuong's weakness is in their pho. Their other dishes are pretty good.

                                  -----
                                  Pho My Duyen
                                  1208 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M6H, CA

                                  1. re: aser

                                    Mainly I'm concerned with their non-Pho dishes. Like the broken rice, pancakes, seafood, grilled items, etc. Pho is not what I'd be going for really.

                                    And price+service. Both price - and especially serivce - are very important as well. Don't want to go if service will infuriate me.

                                    Thanks for your rec, will look into that as well...

                                    1. re: magic

                                      service isn't infuriating but at times it can be slow. overall i've found them to be quite helpful and will top up any broths when i take leftovers to go.

                                      but we're not talking about broths here ;)

                                      i've written a lot about them but i'll go over it again....overall i think their non-pho items are actually their big strengths. their house broken rice is what i normally get ($9.50 i believe, photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonguean... ) from the broken rice section and the pork chop is often larger than that. i really like the crispy tofu wrapped shrimp paste item and the "omlette" which is kind of like a moist pork mince with vermicelli, mushrooms, etc. i don't find the grilled meats though to be very highly flavoured with lemongrass but they have nice grill flavour and while cooked through are still reasonably tender for their thin cuts.

                                      one of my favourite dishes is their bahn xeo (price evades me right now and depends on if you get the shrimp cakes or not... let's guess $7-8, http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonguean... ) because it is typically impeccably crisp on the outside but nice and coconut-y and soft on the inside. the quantity of shrimp and pork can vary a bit though which is a bit of a problem. i looooove the little coconut tumeric shrimp cakes rather than the dry wheaty beany one and eat it whole hog including the crispy tail.

                                      they have an awesome beef and star fruit salad that is on their second single sheet menu (i think) but it is a bit expensive (somewhere between $13-18 though i dare say it is $18) but absolutely worth the indulgence. the meat is tender and plentiful and it looks like they use a whole star fruit for all the slices you get. the presentation is stunning with strands of red onion and the flavour is phenomenal.... i've had a viet friend say it was actually better than what her mom makes (though slightly different) and she seemed rather hell bent on disliking pho phuong!

                                      i tried another bahn cuon dish recently and while i almost always order the bahn xeo i may have to convert to the cuons. i dont know the exact name but it is one where you get several thick slices of the viet deli meats, the bahn cuon is rolled around a pork and mushroom mixture to create small rolls and is sprinkled with fried/dried shallot. i think this was about the $5-6 range. the cuon was quite thin to the point of translucency and would tear on occasion but they were so tender and so delicious that it was hard to fault them.

                                      i know you're avoiding broths but it's hard for me not to suggest my favourite duck noodle soup with bamboo and pig's blood. the chicken soup base there is just really fantastic and what i keep going back for. the shredded red cabbage salad under the duck pieces is really nicely flavoured and textured as well. i believe this dish is about $7.50.

                                      i'd say the portions are reasonable, the prices a bit higher than others though not much more, the service can be slow but will get you what you need, the food really tasty for non-pho items, and that you will always get the right variety of herbs and sauces.

                                      1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                        Thank you so much for such fantastic feedback pinstripeprincess! All very good info. I’m no Vietnamese expert by any means. Typically I’ll go to Ginger when I’m in the mood, though I’m fully aware it’s probably not the most authentic chain. Still, I think their food is very good, especially at their prices, which are awesome. I also like their quick, casual style of service as it takes bad service out of the equation for the most part.

                                        That said I want to try something a little more upscale and authentic. I tried Mimi’s on Gerrard a while back. It was fine, but I haven’t rushed back since and that was over two years ago.

                                        So somewhere where the food is good, the prices are reasonable, and the place is clean is important to me. The prices you quoted sound good to me for a Saturday night out. I’ll be patient with the service if slow. As long as they are nice, that is what is most important to me.

                                        Your pics are amazing. Take lovely photos. The crispy pancake and shrimp pastries have me drooling. Last summer, Scaramouche did a take on a crispy pancake like the one you photographed – the ban xeo I guess it’s called. It was of the best things I’ve ever eaten in my life. Your photo reminds me of that dish, so I’d love to try Pho Phuong’s version. The House Broken Rice looks great too. Your other descriptions all sound wonderful, I’ll get to those if I’m happy with my first visit. Think I might go this Saturday. Oh, I’m cool with broths, I love them, but primarily I’m curious about the non-broth items first.

                                        Thanks again for your feedback. Mainly, I just wanted an update as to whether or not it was still good. Very helpful!

                                        Oh, and I always eat the crispy tails!

                                        1. re: magic

                                          since you're a bit new to the scene i should tell you that the appetizer section tends to actually end up being more breakfast style items and so often they aren't on most menus.

                                          best of luck! i hope you enjoy it! there is nothing wrong with ginger, it's just more of a fast food style of similar dishes.

                                          1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                            Thanks for the support and info. Interesting that their apps are more breakfast style dishes. Right on.

                                            I'll let you know, but so far it looks good.

                                          2. re: magic

                                            I agree with pinstripeprincess' post. Their broken rice with grilled meat dishes are fantastic, my favourite being the chicken. With one other person, 1 app, 2 entrees, and 1 dessert is only about $25 or so - and you leave feeling stuffed! Not bad at all.

                                            1. re: LTL

                                              Wow, those are good prices! Almost into Ginger territory in terms of cost. Not bad at all. Thanks for the info LTL,

                                              1. re: magic

                                                Np. Let us know how your visit goes :)

                                          3. re: pinstripeprincess

                                            Hi pinstripeprincess -- based on mainly your recommendation and BlogTo post, I took some dining companions to PP to try it out. We really enjoyed it!
                                            The Ban Xeo was delish. All the textures and flavours somehow managed to be complementary ...
                                            We had the house special bun and it was enjoyed by all. I'd say this was my favourite. Their spring roll is scrumptious -- as was the honey marinated beef. I had their special pho and enjoyed it although the broth wasn't anything to write home about -- not compared to the stuff I had when I went to Vietnam recently, anyway.
                                            The broken rice was our least favourite -- that being said, we still enjoyed it.

                                            $40 for all three of us to gorge ourselves (super generous portions) in a nice environment. Great place and I'll definitely return. Thanks, princess, for this tip!

                                            1. re: Yum2MyTum

                                              i'm so glad you enjoyed it! i never really understood why the broth was their low point for pho but c'est la vie.

                                              out of curiousity, what did you not like about the broken rice? having not been to vietnam i've just picked up my impressions of the cuisine from vietnamese friends and my own tastebuds.

                                              1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                                hi pinstripe,
                                                We didn't dislike the broken rice- it was really just a matter of personal preference.
                                                My dining companion didn't like the huge quantities of meat. Initially he didn't like the dish because it was all separated out -- he found it strange that he had to mix the ingredients himself.

                                                1. re: Yum2MyTum

                                                  does it usually come all together? i'm just asking as my knowledge is mostly begotten through other people but i really enjoy pho phuong!

                                                  1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                                    No -- it doesn't, as far as I know. Dining Companion just doesn't like having to mix his own food - I don't think he'd like broken rice anywhere, is what I'm saying.
                                                    Overall, though, we did prefer the house special bun.

                                                    1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                                      Yum2MyTum is correct. Everything is supposed to be in their separate space on the plate. That way, you can add as much fish sauce as you want and have a bite of this, then a bite of that. Slopping everything together wouldn't allow you to appreciate as much the flavours of all the different food items.

                                                      1. re: LTL

                                                        that's what i thought. i've always received it separate and really don't see how all the components in the house broken rice at pho phuong would even be combined in any way as their so distinct in texture and flavour.

                                            2. re: magic

                                              I revisited a few days ago and have some more comments.

                                              Their banh cuon is a bit too thick for a recommendation. It doesn't stand up to the delicate thin wraps available at Que Ling or Pho Linh.

                                              Green papaya salad has a very refreshing texture, good crunch.

                                              Broken rice is their strong point. The ground shrimp wrapped in a flaky shell is a standout. Portion for the broken rice is too big for one person imo, works better shared.

                                              1. re: aser

                                                which bahn cuon dish did you have? i had the one where it is wrapped around a pork and mushroom mixture so that it forms a type of roll and that one is so thin and delicate that it is actually difficult not to tear it open.

                                                they have other bahn cuon where they pile the dried crumbled shrimp and pork shreds on it and i find that one quite thick and wouldn't necessarily suggest that dish as much as the others.

                                                1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                                  I don't recall, I just picked the traditional banh cuon served w/ the vietnamese sausage. I think it was $6.

                                                  Try the banh cuon at Que Ling or Pho Linh, those two are the best I've had in the city.

                                                  1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                                    Ah, lightweights :p I tucked away the broken rice + the banh xeo/khot/cong and was good to go. I guess I was expecting huge plates. The broken rice was solid all around, quite enjoyed the tofu shrimp and the steam crab egg. Of course, a sunny side up on top always makes everything better. I enjoyed the banh xeo more though, a fresh and vibrant dish. The trio of mini shrimp cakes were fantastic, but the our cake (?) with the larger prawn on top was a dried out bore - I'd ask for more of the trio as a replacement. Noticed everything was very mildly seasoned; the fish sauce serves as the primary factor for that, eh?

                                                    1. re: Chester Eleganté

                                                      flavours are pretty mute on their own i agree though the porky omlette crab thing has some nice umami-ishness to it. i use up all the sauce for the broken rice because i love the sweetness contrasted with the salty.

                                                      that floury red bean cake... i pretty much ignore it. the only way to make it desirable to me is to soak it in the dipping sauce for pretty much the entire meal. it's just too dry otherwise! or i'll pick the shrimp off the top and have it whole ;)

                                                      1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                                        how is the banh cuon at pho phuong? I've only been for pho there which I found to be decent nothing special at least their portions are bigger than golden turtles! i've was going to stop by there today but instead got off at ossington for my first golden turtle visit.

                                                        1. re: deabot

                                                          i wouldn't say bahn cuon is a strength of theirs but i still think it's pretty nice. it's very tender and thin though i went to pho huong recently and noticed theirs was a little chewier. i usually get the one filled with pork and mushrooms and they're not skimpy with the filling at all which i appreciate (pho phuong i mean). i also like the slices of deli sausage it comes with better at pho phuong. i haven't been to que ling though or pho linh who several people seem to rep.

                                                          i find i like the chicken broth better at pho phuong than their beef (the poorest dish i think they do), i've only had it with the duck noodles and vermicelli. their absolute strength to me is the bahn xeo and those little tumeric coconut cakes you can get with them.