VIET­NAMESE ON THE MOUN­TAIN

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - ALANA HUD­SON

With the cold weather threat­en­ing to come back, I thought a lit­tle pho, the Viet­namese noo­dle soup, would hit the spot.

My din­ing com­pan­ion and I jumped on the Linc, got off at Gage and headed to­ward Stone Church. A plaza sits there and to­ward the back, next to a yoga stu­dio, is Mi Pho Song Vu.

My shoul­ders tensed up as we walked through the rain to the restau­rant but I re­laxed right away when we got in. Pi­ano mu­sic, easy lis­ten­ing hits from the ‘80s and ‘90s.

The room was sleek and sim­ple. We were led to a booth with a dark brown back­ing that played off the sil­ver walls. Off-white tile floors had a sub­tle wood grain pat­tern, and a few hang­ing lights re­minded me a bit of wooden pump­kins in shape. They hung over the bar, the front of which looked as if it was made of bam­boo. It stood out as the sin­gu­lar vis­ual hint of Asia in the room.

As tea was poured for us, we flipped through the menu. It was a small novella, with around 20 vari­a­tions on ev­ery starch and soup. Ap­pe­tiz­ers, ver­mi­celli (or ver­mi­celli and udon), con­gee (a cooked rice por­ridge-like dish), rice, soups, pad Thai, pho and stir-fry. If you want to save time, look at the menu on­line be­fore you go.

First, drinks. They had bot­tles of wine (Cave Springs Ries­ling, Robert Mon­davi Sau­vi­gnon) along with beer: Mol­son, Bud, Corona and Heineken but we went for fruit drinks, choos­ing from 20 types of smooth­ies and 16 bub­ble teas.

I had a sour­sop milk­shake. The sour­sop tasted like a mix of co­conut, melon and pa­paya, sub­tle and com­pelling. My din­ing com­pan­ion got the blue­berry bub­ble tea, chewy dark tapi­oca slid­ing up the straw with ev­ery sip. It was milkier than I ex­pected and, like the sour­sop, mild in flavour.

The pi­ano mu­sic rolled on and our food rolled in.

The spring rolls ar­rived first, with a dip­ping sauce that ap­peared to be a nuoc cham, made with fresh lime juice, fish sauce, gar­lic and chilies. Like most of the food at Mi Pho, the dip­ping sauce leaned to­ward the Western palate. The fish sauce in it wasn’t prom­i­nent enough to serve as the back­bone flavour typ­i­cal of many tra­di­tional Viet­namese dishes. The spring rolls were crispy, and while the pork filling was not overly flavour­ful, the car­rots came through nicely.

A lo­tus root salad came out next. Baby lo­tus tubes, about the size of penne, with the sig­na­ture holes ex­tend­ing along the length of the veg­etable. They tasted as if they were lightly pick­led and the salad had a gen­er­ous amount of shrimp, car­rots and mint. Peanuts gar­nished the top of this healthy and clean­tast­ing dish.

Along with the salad, we had rice noo­dles and grilled beef. A straight­for­ward pre­sen­ta­tion with a nice dose of mint, and a ta­marind sauce that was not overly com­plex.

The sim­plic­ity of the room was high­lighted by the lack of pic­tures or dec­o­ra­tive touches on the walls. This made the sound travel, though, and it was dif­fi­cult not to over­hear the table be­hind us talk­ing about go­ing into the fash­ion in­dus­try and what that might be like. Speak softly and carry a big stick.

Chop­stick, that is. These were de­liv­ered as the mains made their way out. First came the pork dish, three ways (grilled, pork “stick” — a sweet sausage, and shred­ded pork skin), over ver­mi­celli. I did my part by adding hoisin sauce, hot sauce and nuoc cham, and the dish was ex­actly what I ex­pected.

The grilled pork was savoury and the pick­led veg­eta­bles that came with it added zing, more sweet than acidic.

The grilled beef was sim­ple but ad­dic­tive. Mar­i­nated lightly, it had a deep flavour, with the grilling adding a layer of depth. This came with a mound of rice and pick­led veg­eta­bles. Sim­ple and tasty. The pho was far spicier than any­thing else we tried. My com­pan­ion or­dered the saté (Spicy Rare Beef Rice Noo­dle Beef Soup), and I couldn’t eat more than two bites at a time with­out wa­ter­ing eyes and burn­ing lips sig­nalling for me to stop. But through the spice, though, I could taste a nice, light soup base.

CATHIE COW­ARD, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Mi Pho Song Vu: the re­lax­ing pi­ano mu­sic rolled on and our food rolled in.

ALANA HUD­SON, SPE­CIAL TO THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

The grilled beef had a deep and rich flavour.

ALANA HUD­SON, SPE­CIAL TO THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

This par­tic­u­lar pho was spicier than ex­pected, but had a nice broth.

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