Golden Turtle (redux)

Golden Turtle Ext

Golden Turtle
Address: 125 Ossington; Toronto, Ontario
Date & time of visit: May 8th 2016 + 1:00pm
Price (large): $8.50 CAD

Ratings:

Jason

Broth: 5.5 | Beef: 7 | Noodle: 8.5 | Condiment: 7 | Service/atmosphere: 9 | Overall: 7.4

LRW Class Average

Broth: 8.4 | Beef: 7.9 | Noodle: 8 | Condiment: 8.4 | Service/atmosphere: 7.5 | Overall: 8

Overall Rating: 7.7
Quality per dollar (based on large pho): 0.91

Write-up from Jason:

Stay Golden, Turtle

Things can get lost when you break an experience down into its constituent elements. I recently started watching Netflix’s Stranger Things. The show is highly derivative, drawing from works like ET, Goonies and Super 8. The latter of those films is itself a nostalgia-filtered vision of what it was like to be a nerd growing up in the 1980s. We often condemn the derivative, but I’m not sure that’s fair when it comes to such loving recreations of simpler times (that, in actuality, weren’t that simple).

The same can be said for Golden Turtle, which despite being a less-than-faithful copy of a Saigon pho joint, provides an altogether enjoyable pho experience. With an expert front-of-house staff, breezy open dining room, and patio, Golden Turtle is an inviting destination for a convivial gathering. And that’s really what my last visit was all about.

U of T Law’s premier former legal research and writing (LRW) students and I met this past Mothers Day for a reunion pho lunch. I deeply enjoyed hearing what everyone was up to, and truly, the pho was not the most important part of the lunch. But, this being a phodown, we have to talk about it. You’ll see above that I listed my scores along with the average of the eight students that attended. You’ll also see that, regardless of what you think about my LRW teaching skills, I didn’t pass along much of my pho philosophy.

As I alluded to in my (likely misguided) analogy to Stranger Things, I thought Golden Turtle was lacking when it came to fundamentals (e.g., weak broth, not enough beef, limited condiments) but provided a great overall experience. The students disagreed, finding the service and atmosphere to be Golden Turtle’s weakest point. There are at least two conclusions one might draw from this. Maybe, like legal writing, phodowns are something you learn by doing. And, if we did enough, you’d see more agreement. Or maybe the atmosphere really wasn’t that great, and I let my own nostalgia colour my judgments. For now, the data support both hypotheses.

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Pho Tien Thanh (redux)

Pho tien thanh Toronto.

Pho Tien Thanh
Address: 57 Ossington; Toronto, Ontario
Date & time of visit: October 24th 2015 + 4:30pm
Price (large): $9.25 CAD

Ratings:

Jason

Broth: 6 | Beef: 4 | Noodle: 8 | Condiment: 8.5 | Service/atmosphere: 7 | Overall: 6.7

Angela

Broth: 6 | Beef: 4 | Noodle: 6 | Condiment: 6 | Service/atmosphere: 7 | Overall: 5.8

Overall Rating: 6.25
Quality per dollar (based on large pho): .68

Write-up from Jason:

Vancouver in Toronto

It was a cold, wet autumn day in Toronto. In fact, it felt a lot more like Vancouver. I guess Angela brought the weather with her.

Angela and I worked in the same psychology lab at UBC in the early 2000s. I hadn’t seen her since 2007 or thereabouts. She messaged me a few days before this very Vancouver-like day: She’d be in Toronto this weekend for a conference and wondered if we could do a ‘down. Of course.

I respect Angela because when she solicits advice about travel, she actually uses the advice and then reports back. She was in Vietnam earlier this year and retraced the Chin Bros’ footsteps to both Pho Gia Truyen and Pho Le. She loved both and documented her travels on Instagram. I don’t know why sharing experiences like that – over a year apart – matters so much, but it does.

All this is to say Angela knows pho about as well as anyone. I wanted to take her somewhere good, but I haven’t really been blown away by anything here in Toronto. She was also staying downtown so something relatively close to that, in an area she might want to explore afterwards – the list is thin. Well, Sarah Mac and I had a pretty good time ‘downing Pho Tien Thanh (PTT) a few years back. Why not that?

PTT was relatively empty at 4:30 on a Saturday but filled up in a hurry. There was a line when we left. It’s not so clear why – the pho here has gone downhill. We’re talking alpine, double black diamond downhill.

Pho tien thanh Toronto.

The beef here was the main culprit – as you’ll see from the photo there really wasn’t much of it (an issue in the previous review). And what was there was cut thickly and extremely chewy (a new problem). Angela had a hard time getting through one particular chunk and that should never be the case with tai. The broth didn’t help, coming in a shade below hot and not at all sufficient to cook the meat.

That said, the broth was fine, not too salty but rather watery and unaromatic.

Our only serious disagreement was over the noodles, which I liked for their lack of clumpiness. Angela, however, noted they were several clicks past al dente. I didn’t pick up on this, but I am getting old.

Rounding things out, I was very happy with the condiments. The presence of sawtooth herb (culantro) was a boon, but why three sprigs for two people? That made for a dicey division of condiments but the odds were ever in my favor. Service was a bit slow and while PTT certainly has the hole in the wall vibe down but I’d appreciate a cool fishtank or two. It does get appropriately steamy in there on a cold night.

Ultimately, while the pho wasn’t top notch, the company was: Pho knows no boundaries and neither does friendship.

Pho tien thanh Toronto.

Que Ling

Que ling

Que Ling Restaurant
Address: 248 Boulton Avenue; Toronto, Ontario
Date & time of visit: June 20th 2015 + 3:00pm
Price (large): $5.75 CAD

Ratings:

Jason

Broth: 7 | Beef: 6 | Noodle: 8 | Condiment: 9 | Service/atmosphere: 9 | Overall: 7.8

Overall Rating: 7.8
Quality per dollar (based on large pho): 1.36

Write-up from Jason:

Solo Phodown! Solo! Phodown! Solo Phodown!

One of the only rules of a phodown is that one shall not phodown alone – a simple rule, easily broken. And like Mal Reynolds, I aim to misbehave.

You know what, that’s not 100% accurate. I’m not some handsome rogue pho-blogger but rather a guy who had a pho by himself and wants to ‘down it before it gets lost in the ether. A big damn hero I am not.

A couple of weeks ago while recovering from a gum graft surgery and thus restricted to foods of the softer sort, I found myself in one of my favorite parts of town – Toronto’s Chinatown East – and hankering for a bowl of the good stuff. And while I just called this area Chinatown East, there’s a significant number of Vietnamese joints around. Rose makes a hell of a banh mi and don’t forget Sarah Mac and I ‘downed Mi Mi a couple of years ago.

But on this day I had my sights trained on what I had always viewed as a more distinctive restaurant. Que Ling is situated just off Gerrard, on a side street but still visible from the main drag. The structure looks like it ought to house a car rental office and instead somehow holds about ten tables, a counter an a small cooking area. The other patrons were a Vietnamese family and a group of three young skateboarders. All were treated with an equal level of cheer and care.

Que ling

The first thing I’d point out about Que Ling is that it’s the cheapest pho I’ve seen in Toronto. While large phos will often cost you around $7-8, Que Ling’s large rings in at $5.75. The downside is that real estate savings aren’t the only reason Que Ling can charge so little. This is a noodle-heavy, beef-light pho. The beef is perfectly fine, but the plain lack of quantity was the main reason I knocked Que Ling’s beef score down.

On the other hand, the condiment platter was just about spot on. There was no doubt about the freshness of the herbs and sprouts, a spicy thai bird pepper made an appearance, and there was even saw-tooth. Points were deducted, however, for there only being one saw tooth. Not cool. Let’s make saw-tooth a regular thing in Toronto phos and not a nominal addition. I’ve got a kickstarter in the early phases and am pleased with the progress so far.

The lack of beef was seemingly made up for by an abundance of noodles, which were well-executed, but you know, sometimes you get a bit tired of noodles.

I left the broth for last as it was the most challenging. Hoping that I had stumbled upon a hidden gem, and taking note of the exceptional atmosphere and condiment plate, I wanted to love the broth here. Sadly, it was middle of the road. That’s not to say there’s no grace to be found in this broth – someone clearly knows what he or she is doing with the spicing. This wasn’t a haphazard broth, there just wasn’t enough umami. And in place of beefiness, there was salt, and lots of it.

In the end, this was an enjoyable experience on a day when I deeply wished for an enjoyable experience. And it may well be the best value play for pho in town. It’s just not the best pho in town.

Heynong man.

Sky Dragon

Sky Dragon @ 280 Spadina Avenue in Toronto Ontario, call them @ (416) 408-4999

Sky dragon sushi

Background

There are few things more frustrating than missed opportunities.

Working indoors on a fine spring day is one. And then there’s a year’s lost development for the great Marcus Stroman currently plagues both Stroman and the city of Toronto. Shitty push-cart dim sum at the heart of Toronto’s downtown chinatown is just the icing on the cake.

From my experience in Hong Kong, push-cart dim sum is something of a dying art. And it makes sense: unlike revenge, most dishes are best served immediately after they are prepared. Delicate dumplings, several of which contain easily-overcooked seafood, fall into this non-revenge category. So imagine how annoying it would be for a chef to prepare such a dish and then watch it paraded around in a steam cart for the next couple of hours.

I only went to one push-cart dim sum in Hong Kong and it was clear why the concept worked there – it was busy as hell. And while it was excellent dim sum, it was dim sum of the people – the standards executed well and at a great value. It was not the elevated fare you’d get at an a la minute joint. Hell, even Tim Ho Wan, the standard-bearer for affordable quality dim sum operates on a made-to-order basis.

A Proposition

Push-cart dim, despite its inherent limitations, is just fun. You get the excitement of not knowing what’s coming around the corner, harrowing interactions with the push-cart ladies, and the retro HK tea house vibe. But it requires volume. Ever been in a push cart dim sum place that’s not doing so well? It’s just depressing. The same sad items being paraded around and eventually microwaved when some unfortunate soul orders them is neither fun nor tasty. It stands to reason, therefore, that a city can only support an extremely number of push-cart dim sums and the popular ones – whose very asset is their crowd – will push-cart out the competition.

Sky Dragon

Sky Dragon has no problems with crowds as it’s one of the few push-cart dim sums in downtown Toronto. So really, with turnover what it is, there’s really no excuse for it to be so bad. Indeed, I’ve been there on days when diners leave their tables to swarm the carts when they exit the kitchen. The problem here is not freshness, but a kitchen that just doesn’t really care anymore.

Sky Dragon is dim sum that you could easily make at home: go to a Chinese grocery, buy a bunch of frozen dumplings, (over)steam them up, and you’ve got the Sky Dragon experience. Har gao and siu mai are dense and chewy. Spare ribs are slate, gristly and boring. Rice noodle rolls (cheung fun) are gummy.

That said, Sky Dragon does have some nice features. Dragon-perched high above the center of chinatown you really feel like this should be kind of place that houses a dim sum joint. And the push cart ladies are precisely as surly as they should be – a difficult balance to maintain indeed.

Still, until the food catches up you might as well call Sky Dragon “Rhaegal” or “Viserion” – two dragons of immense potential sadly shackled and humbled by a misguided young Khaleesi. Except the Khaleesi in the present scenario is clumsy and overcooked Chinese dumplings. And terrible analogies.

Brooklyn Tavern (Leslieville)

Brooklyn Tavern @ 1097 Queen Street East in Toronto Ontario, call them @ (416) 901-1177

Brooklyn tavern.

It was the beginning of Autumn in Toronto and we were all in denial. I attempted to cope by having brunch at Brooklyn Tavern with a new friend. We had a post-prandial walk down to Woodbine Beach and watched all the other deniers playing in the sand. Ice cream soon followed.

Based on this one visit it’s hard not to conclude that Brooklyn Tavern is a wonderful place to have brunch. We dined on their intimate and garden-like back patio. I can’t imagine it will be much of an option in the coming months, but on that day the weather was perfect for brunch among the flowers and leaves.

Brooklyn tavern.

I opted for the signature Caesar, which features Dillon’s unfiltered gin and a natural Caesar mix. Other than a more subdued flavor, I didn’t detect much of a difference between this and a standard Caesar (the spiciness of the drink overwhelms the other subtleties), so I would probably just go with the standard next time and save a few bucks. My entrée was the carnitas hash and egg over arugula salad ($12), which was delicious and a fair price. The arugula was immaculate, the carnitas clearly homemade and the egg perfectly cooked.

Despite the clearly well-conceived and –executed food program, I was more impressed with the service. On this quiet Saturday afternoon the restaurant was staffed by just a server, bartender and chef. They couldn’t have been more friendly and approachable, and perhaps more importantly – proud of the establishment and what they were doing there. I told them – and it’s true – I’d be in every week if it wasn’t across the city for me.

Carbon Bar

The Carbon Bar @ 99 Queen Street East in Toronto Ontario, call them @ (416) 947-7000

I’ve written about hipster BBQ before with the general conclusion that it’s a difficult concept to do well. In other realms, I think hipster takes are a good thing. For instance, places like La Carnita and Grand Electric do offer some value with flavor combinations you can’t get at a classic taqueria, and that are often quite good. Sure they’re probably more expensive than they should be, but what they offer goes well beyond the standard taco.

BBQ is an altogether different beast. While there’s a lot of enjoyment to be found in dressing up a taco, BBQ is all about smoking technique. The master craftsmen and women in Texas, South Carolina and Kansas City spend a lifetime tweaking their smokers, their timing and their wood. Simply put, there is just no quantity of lychee BBQ sauce and craft beer is going to temp me to overpay for BBQ.

Carbon bar brisket. It's expensive.

And that’s exactly what places like Carbon Bar and Electric Mud want me to do. At Carbon Bar, I ordered the brisket, which consisted of five slices of the titular cut, a pickle and a ramekin of sauce. The cost of this “plate” was $22, which in some sort of entrapment-like situation more-or-less requires the diner add a side. The brisket was, in fact, quite well executed – smoky and tender. Unfortunately, the price is prohibitive.

By way of contrast, I went to Memphis a few years ago and paid about $5 for the pulled pork sandwich pictured below:

Neely's Pulled Pork

I understand, of course, the cost of ingredients and real estate is a lot lower in Memphis. And there’s a good chance that these restaurants aren’t making a lot of money off their smoked meat (rather, their beverage program). Indeed, I’m not blaming Carbon Bar or Electric Mud – they seem to have a genuine interest in the art of smoking, and are quite good at it. It’s just that from the consumer’s perspective, paying a lot for a plate of BBQ and not leaving sated is difficult to swallow.

In short, BBQ, by its nature, is food for the masses. I’m fine paying a surcharge for creative takes on some dishes. This isn’t one of them.

Coffee Talk: Interview with Gigi Presentey (former manager of R-Squared)

Gigi

Interview with Gigi Presentey from Gigi.to
Sunday, August 24 2014

The Backstory

I’ve known Gigi about two years now and for the entirety of those two years I’ve been very impressed by her. We met during the Fall of 2012 when she was a barista at the formidable R-Squared in Queen West. She told me about how she had recently competed in a barista competition, described her personal philosophy towards coffee, and showed me a google map she had created with details of nearly every espresso of note in Toronto. Here was a coffee-downer I could respect.

I suppose like food and wine, coffee has always puzzled me as something that’s infinitely complex yet very simple in its effect: it makes you feel good. I also do most of my writing in cafes so I end up drinking a lot of the damned stuff.

Gigi’s the same when it comes to complexity. If you think you’ve got her pegged – think again. You might think she’d be a terribly analytic person since she has a degree in science, but then she turns around and turns out to be an artist. You think she’s going to stay in the coffee game, but then you find out she’s working at an architect’s office. It’s all very confusing.

I attempted to get to the bottom of it. We met at the Sam James in the PATH and I did what I could to get to the bottom of her artist’s pain.

But before I recount our talk, why don’t you check out her incredible online store featuring her personal works of art.

The Interview

Toronto Phodown (TPD): Hi Gigi. Thanks for coming out here to talk.

Gigi Presentey (GGP): Hi Jason.

TPD: Professional barista, tournament competitor, the coffee map – did you conquer Toronto’s coffee scene?

GGP: For a while I felt I was on top of it. I knew which ones were new, where various baristas were.

TPD: Where was the best?

GGP: There is no right in terms of coffee. The greatest barista in the world, one of the best, the 2009 champion Gwilym Davies believes he still is learning and still has shots that surprise him. If anyone thinks they know how to perfectly make espresso, they have stagnated and they have lost.

TPD: What do you taste in this espresso?

GGP: It doesn’t surprise me. They [Sam James] use Cut Coffee, their house brand. I know they have good coffee. In this shot I taste red wine notes. It’s not very acidic. This is on the darker end.

TPD: When you compare Toronto’s independent coffee scene to other cities, how does it compare?

GGP: I’ll give you a general overview of my comparisons. Ottawa…

TPD: The birthplace of Canada

GGP: And me as well. When I left in 2006 it was small and emerging. Bridgehead was there but that’s closer to the Starbucks end of things. There were a few others, maybe Ideal Coffee.

TPD: Ideal is here!

GGP: It’s also is Ottawa. Next I go to Waterloo.

TPD: For School?

GGP: Yes, I was living in the student bubble. There were no good coffees in the bubble. Not even a Starbucks.

TPD: What are your feelings on Starbucks?

GGP: It’s complicated. At first, I thought I didn’t enjoy the coffee. But I forced myself to open my mind because everyone else liked it…

TPD: Okay, I won’t push you on that. Back to Waterloo.

GGP: There were no good coffee shops there at the time. Towards the end of my time there was a place called Little Bean, which was kind of cool. This is why I got obsessed with making good coffee. We bought our own beans because we were trying to up our game. We had this old Tim Hortons coffee maker in our student house. The only way to make it palatable was to add salt to the coffee.

Eventually, I found a really cool place called Eco Café and I can’t remember how I found out about it, or the path. But they gave us a tour of their roaster and we got to sample all these different beans and they told us about their method of test roasting beans in a popcorn maker.

I was going to give an overview of other cities. The west coast is good but I’ve never been.

TPD: Maybe you can go this summer.

GGP: Maybe the fall.

TPD: Who is a better barista you or Matt (former R-Squared barista)?

GGP: Oh Matt, for sure. Matt has a lot more technical knowledge and experience in different places.

TPD: This challenges my world view! But we’ll agree to disagree at this point.

GGP: I make a mean French press at home. When I was working, I really enjoyed making every single cup of coffee.

TPD: What is your favorite to make?

GGP: Latte or cappuccino because you get to put a lot of artistry in making the milk texture just right.

TPD: What is the precise difference between the two?

GGP: Cappuccino is a stiff micro foam, slightly stiffer than a latte and it doesn’t separate. It will naturally separate if you sit with it, but it should hold a while.

TPD: When you make a good one and someone just sits with it, does it drive you crazy? Just drink it!

GGP: No! I don’t force people to enjoy it the way I want. There’s no point in getting pissed off about it.

TPD: I think you are a zen master.

GGP: …

TPD: So…movingon.org, you can’t taste every coffee you serve. But you do taste beforehand when you calibrate the espresso in the morning??

GGP: Yes

TPD: How does that work?

GGP: I pull several shots. I adjust the grind of the coffee – ideally also the pressure and temp of machine, but that’s more if you have your own café.

TPD: So at R squared you didn’t?

GGP: I felt I couldn’t experiment as much because it was not my place, but if it was mine, I would experiment more. The dosage of coffee (grounds in machine), the time it takes to pull the shot.

TPD: You would tweak all of these things every morning?

GGP: Yes.

TPD: And if everything is just right, you can pull the perfect shot?

GGP: It’s not a linear relationship. Have you seen multiaxis 3d graphs?

TPD: No.

GGP: It’s a relationship that has multimodes with more than 2 axises.

TPD: When it comes to coffee are you nihilist?

GGP: No. I don’t think it doesn’t matter. Even though we can’t reach the ultimate, there are lots of highs we can reach.

TPD: There’s maybe not one high?

GGP: Sure. Because there are different styles people love.

TPD: So if you want to find an espresso that’s good for you, you need to find a barista you agree with, stylistically?

GGP: Yes, but the barista is limited by the shop. Not only limited, but elevated. But you need the shop. It should be a cooperation.

TPD: Sorry we ran out of time! Thank you Gigi!

Pho 75 (Arlington, Virginia)

Pho 75 Ext

Pho 75
Address: 1721 Wilson Boulevard; Arlington, VA 22209
Date & time of visit: December 26th 2013 + 2:00pm
Price (only one size): $8.00 USD

Ratings:

Jason

Broth: 5 | Beef: 7 | Noodle: 8 | Condiment: 7 | Service/atmosphere: 8.5 | Overall: 7.1

Mikey

Broth: 6.5 | Beef: 8 | Noodle: 8.5 | Condiment: 8.5 | Service/atmosphere: 9 | Overall: 8.1

Steve

Broth: 9 | Beef: 8 | Noodle: 9 | Condiment: 9 | Service/atmosphere: 7 | Overall: 8.4

Dad

Broth: 10 | Beef: 10 | Noodle: 10 | Condiment: 10 | Service/atmosphere: 10 | Overall: 10

Mom

Broth: 8 | Beef: 7 | Noodle: 8 | Condiment: 10 | Service/atmosphere: 10 | Overall: 8.4

Overall Rating: 8.4
Quality per dollar (based on large pho): 1.05

Write-up from Jason:

A Good, Old-Fashioned Family Phodown!

Pho 75 Arlington Menu

This one has been a long time coming.

A few weeks ago I wrote about learning to appreciate pho in North America after having a transformative (trans-pho-mative?) experience in Vietnam. It was something of a pretentious thing to write, but when I did come back for a pho at my childhood pho shop in Virginia, it was impossible to ignore just how different my perception was. This post is about that first pho back.

Pho 75 is the pho I grew up with. It’s widely considered one of the best, if not the best, pho in the DC-area, which is home to large Vietnamese population. I spent a lot of time at this place as a kid and in many ways it’s my gauge for what good pho is.

So it was a rather disturbing experience late last year when I came back and it just didn’t taste the same. The sights and sounds of Pho 75 were the comforting vestiges of my youth, but the broth – once my standard for pho broth – fell flat. There wasn’t the pure funky umami that I had gotten used to in Vietnam.

That said, we’ve never featured a full family phodown on this website and now is the time. My family has been coming to Pho 75 for over 15 years so let’s see what they thought.

Pho 75 You know condiments

My dad, the pho-patriarch of the family, is know for his brand loyalty. He gave it tens across the board. A strong statement from a strong man.

Mom was a bit more moderate, finding faults with the essence of this pho but loving the soft-components (i.e., condiment and service/atmosphere).

Steve apparently had issues with the service here (he likes fancy Italian restaurants) but was very positive otherwise.

Finally, Mikey, my traveling companion in Vietnam and brother from the same mother largely echoed my concerns, finding the broth seriously lacking.

Bottom Line: Pho 75 is still one of the best phos in North America.

Despite all of this, maybe the most telling score is a behavioral one. We will be back.

Noodle City (San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles)

Noodle City SGV Exterior Shot

Noodle City
Address: 848 East Garvey, Monterey Park, CA 91755
Date & time of visit: July 14th 2014 + 7:45pm
Price (only one size): $6.05 USD

Ratings:

Jason

Broth: 7.5 | Beef: 7.5 | Noodle: 8 | Condiment: 7 | Service/atmosphere: 8 | Overall: 7.6

Mikey

Broth: 8 | Beef: 7 | Noodle: 8 | Condiment: 8 | Service/atmosphere: 8 | Overall: 7.8

Overall Rating: 7.7
Quality per dollar (based on large pho): 1.27

Write-up from Jason:

IT’S BEEN an exercise in acclimatization getting back into pho after my grand trip to Vietnam, where I had the best pho of my life. Soon after, my family went to a favorite pho haunt of ours during the holiday season and it just wasn’t the same. I had learned what the broth of a true pho auteur tastes like and there was no going back.

Noodle City SGV condiments 2.0

Time has passed and like a broken heart, sometimes just forgetting is the best medicine. By way of analogy, imagine dating a person you deem to be perfect in every way. For me, that’s star of stage and screen, Kristin Kreuk.

Kristin Kreuk

What happens is you go on a couple of dates, leaving your head spinning over how perfect she is. The worst case scenario has occurred – instead of just enjoying yourself and showing her how great you are, you’re singularly motivated to simply not mess up. This type of behavior, as we all know, is definitionally anathema to him or her liking you back.

Sooner or later the inevitable happens – you get dumped. How do you go back to dating normal girls? How do you go back to paying $8.50 US for a bowl of pho at Pho 75 in Arlington, Virginia?

The answer is simple: you don’t. You can’t. At least not right away.

Time is the only answer.

Noodle City SGV Pho

You reconnect with your friends. You tell your story about how you flirted with perfection. You ruminate on where things went wrong. Could you have been wittier? Was she feigning interest in your obsession with Buffy the Vampire Slayer the whole time? What kind of guy is obsessed with BtVS anyway?

Then you start to forget. At first maybe you don’t want to. You kind of like being the sad guy and maybe you feel like there is still hope as long as you don’t forget. But then you realize you have to. You stop following her on Facebook and eventually unfriend her. You replace thoughts of her with rosier ones: Neil Gaiman books; days at the beach; Felicia Day. Eventually days go by in which you realize you didn’t think of her at all. At then, maybe, it’s time to go back to Pho 75.

Well, over the past week and a half I’ve been visiting my Chin-to-Chin traveling partner in California. The other night we decided to go out for tacos at one of his favorite joints, Colonia Taco Lounge. We drove about half an hour to get there only to find out that it’s closed on Mondays. After a bit of haggling, Mikey informed me that he thought pho would settle his stomach and guess what(?), one of the San Gabriel Valley’s best phos is not far away! I agreed.

It was time to start moving on.

And you know what? It wasn’t that bad.

Mikey and I agreed very closely on this pho so the review will be rather streamlined. First, the service was tight. We were greeted warmly and the server was vigilant throughout the meal, taking orders, delivering the pho and refilling waters. Noodle City’s condiment game was similarly strong, but not without its holes. My main gripe was that they teased the presence of peppers and saw-tooth but never went all the way. We got two measly leaves of saw-tooth and one sliver of jalapeno. If you are going to go for it, go all the way Noodle City!

Noodle City SGV condiments

Keeping with its namesake, this restaurant’s noodle program was its strength. Mikey and I both thought that the noodles came out al dente and without a hint of clump, albeit with something of a powdery undercooked taste we couldn’t quite identify. The broth was underwhelming, but above-average for a North American joint. The dark color was discomforting, but there was a hint of richness and coherent spicing. Finally in terms of beef, it wasn’t very fresh but was generous, especially with the flank and tendon.

Overall, this was not a great pho, but it was an important one for me. I’m ready to start moving on.

Goodbye Vietnam.

Goodbye Kristin.

Easy Restaurant (Little Italy)

Easy Restaurant @ 713 College Street Street in Toronto Ontario, call them @ (416) 535-2222

Easy Restaurant Little Italy

There are presently two Easy Restaurants – one in Parkdale and one in Little Italy. I lived directly above the Little Italy permutation this Spring and regularly witnessed long lines of soon-to-be patrons eagerly waiting to worship at this altar to Southwestern-inspired diner food. So when my mom came to visit, I was primed to take her for an approximate Mother’s day brunch and see what all the fuss was about.

Easy is a reference to the movie Easy Rider. I suppose the unifying theme of this restaurant is the aesthetic of that movie, along with similar films from the 70s. There are also a bunch of movie posters from the Easy Rider era. The cuisine, on the other hand, is composed and pricey (by breakfast standards), belying the grittiness of the movie.

Easy could also be a reference to the service at Easy Restaurant. The servers, exhibiting a high level of experience and professionalism, move fluidly through the room taking orders, refilling coffee, and chatting with customers. They get everything done quickly and well, with a cool and easy vibe.

Breakfast Tacos w Chorizo at Easy Restaurant

Easy is certainly not a reference to Easy Restaurant’s impact on your pocketbook. I ordered the weekday special, which is three breakfast tacos for about $10. It didn’t seem much like a special, as it essentially consisted of three tortillas, eggs, cheese and sauce. The food cost couldn’t be much more than a quarter of the price. The server offered the tempting upgrade of chorizo in the tacos, which I accepted, but bumped the price to $15. I know tacos are expensive in this city, but three breakfast tacos with no sides for $15 is excessive by any accounting. They were good: expertly scrambled eggs, tangy sauce, and fresh (but not house-made) tortillas. But for $15 they needed to wash my car and take out the garbage to be worth the price I paid.

I’m on the fence with Easy Restaurant. On the one hand it’s a fun restaurant with a cool vibe. On the other hand, I’d rather just buy some tortillas at La Torilleria, fry some eggs, and save myself $8 + tip. You know?