Excellent food and service allow Huong’s Vietnamese Bistro to overcome the hurdle of an obscure location
Tables, paired with red vinyl chairs, are dotted with overturned white cups awaiting golden tea redolent of toasted rice.
I wait no longer than a minute for a server to pour me tea. Appetizers arrive promptly too.
The giant shrimp pancake is slightly sweet, crispy and tinged ochre with turmeric. Its tender shrimp and bean sprout stuffing is carefully prepared. Sided by mint, Thai basil, leaf lettuce, lightly pickled carrot, cucumber and a tangle of bean sprouts, the idea is to create a lettuce roll-up and dunk it in sweet-salty-sour nuoc cham dipping sauce.
Orange-stained barbecued quails are glazed with a sweet sauce infused with the earthy citrus flavour of lemongrass. Quails are a tad dry, but their skin is nicely crisped. They’re deep fried before hitting the grill.
Next comes a main of sugarcane shrimp with pork spring rolls and vermicelli. Shrimp is a vague seafood paste; the bone-dry sugar cane it’s draped over suggests a past spent behind freezer doors. But the spring rolls are moist, flavourful and not a bit oily. Both components are perched atop toothsome vermicelli gifted a smooth mouthfeel by a splash of marinade fish sauce dressing.
Succulent glazed and broiled sweet beef sausage wrapped in bitter betel leaves is delicious bundled with cooling herbs and crisp vegetables in chewy rice paper wraps.
Not to be forgotten is the pho. I get tripe, tendon and rare beef with flat rice noodles. When the steaming bowl arrives, I confirm the shaved sirloin is indeed rare. The broth is also rare in that it is well skimmed and lacks the condensed flavour of bouillon cubes. This is a true, light beef broth – onion-rich and rather vegetal with peaks of black pepper and a baseline of star anise. As for the offal, the tripe is done right. Ghostly tentacles swaying about the busy bowl are resilient to the bite, breaking down into tiny, crunchy strings that tickle the palate. Gelatinous beef tendon has a lovely, zesty flavour.
Smooth crème caramel, cool custard draped in thin caramelized sugar syrup, pairs well with the toasted flavours of the complimentary tea.
Huong’s Vietnamese Bistro
343 Booth Street; (613) 237-8755