Pho Tien Thanh
Address: 57 Ossington, Toronto (map)
Date & time of visit: October 17, 2012 + 6:30PM
Price (based on deluxe pho): Small – $6.75; Large – $7.50; XL – $8.25
Broth: 8 | Beef: 7.5 | Noodle: 7.5 | Condiment: 8 | Service/atmosphere: 6.5 | Overall: 7.5
Broth: 9 | Beef: 8 | Noodle: 8.5 | Condiment: 7 | Service/atmosphere: 6.5 | Overall: 7.8
Overall Rating: 7.65
Quality per dollar (based on large pho): 1.02
Write-up from Jason:
At some point in one’s pho-downing career, it becomes more about training the next generation than amassing individual accolades. Like Michael Jordan as a Wizard, Greg Maddux as a Dodger, and Tom Selleck on Friends, my star is fading and the chore of legacy-building is beginning.
With this in mind I decided to bring my friend Sarah Mac into the fold as a new phodowner. Relatively new to phodowning, but well-schooled in the art of pho, she is in many ways a younger version of myself (if I had read a novel about pho-making and spent the last couple of years on pho-driven vision quest). Still, and this probably goes without saying, pho-downing, even to the most eager and talented young pho-enthusiast, is a complex and challenging concept.
[For those of you concerned about methodology, in particular introducing a new rater at this point in the game, I have to admit I share your trepidations. However, I will take every step to ensure that each pho is given its proper due in light of this development. The current plan is to use the current round as a vetting mechanism to find the top 5 phos, and then I will rate them myself or with the same partner to find the champion and runners-up.]
I did glean a certain degree of pleasure out of taking on this new role. Pho-downs are tricky business, and having the chance to explain the scoring process, the importance of taking the first unadulterated broth sip prior to adding basil, etc, and the dangers of letting a strong broth score color the rest of the ratings were quite fulfilling. I imagine it’s exactly what raising a child is like.
But, I think you probably came here for the pho and not my musings on child-rearing. Pho Tien Thanh is quite an interesting pho. First, to contextualize, it’s a few doors down from Golden Turtle, which is the obvious comparison. The two smaller sizes here are pricier than Golden Turtle, but Pho Tien Thanh drops prices at the XL size, perhaps catering the serious pho-hounds among us. It’s also a pho of a very different variety.
Pho Tien Thanh is a spice-heavy, aroma-forward broth. The clove and anise slap you across the face from the moment the pho is placed in front of you, and it does not relent. This helps it contend with the hot sauce and other condiments I like to use to dip my beef and noodles into. What I didn’t like is that there was a serious lack of richness to the broth, which comes across light as air. To clarify, I think this was by design and is simply the style Pho Tien Thanh is going for. I just like a little more beefiness to my beef noodle soup. Sarah noted a floral component and found the broth reminded her Christmas. Free association is the first lesson we teach in pho-down school and Sarah picked up on it quickly.
Lack of beef was, however, a theme of the night. Sarah and I both enjoyed the quality of the beef involved in the pho here. What we didn’t appreciate is the niggardly portions. In particular I like the chewy bits of tendon, as opposed to the melty bits I get at most phos. I did not, however, like the final chunk which was inedibly sinewy. The noodles were perfectly acceptable if a bit overcooked.
The next serious beef was with the condiments. They could have been as close to a 10 as I tend to give out for the chili paste and perfect crunchy cilantro. However, the hoisin was disgusting, watery, and running out of the bottles with nary a squeeze required. I also had to ding them for service. They were slammed – granted – but pho is supposed to be a quick meal and it took nearly 30 minutes from ordering to receiving our phos, which is just too long. I also get the idea that pho is a hole in the wall type of food, but there is no excuse for it being oppressively hot in the restaurant when it’s chilly outside. Open a window!
Overall, I liked Pho Tien Thanh quite a bit. With a few small tweaks, it could really be an impressive establishment. As for my new mentor role: It’s rewarding to pass the torch to the new generation, but I’m not ready to give up the fight just yet. This Magnum PI is still on the hunt.