Wendy was quite excited to spot the transition of Pho Hoa on Kingsway to its new incarnation, Pho Boi: A Taste of Vietnam about a week ago. We agreed to try it ASAP. It seems this chain has its roots in Victoria, so in hindsight that should have been a red flag right there…
PS-I found this sadly defunct but hilariously named Victoria food blog recently…the front page pic is priceless 😛
We were invited to pick our own seat when we walked in so we pulled up a chair and got down to business with Pho Boi’s menu. It looked interesting enough so we ordered our pho from the “Adventures’ choice section”. We also were interested in their version of the Vietnamese spring roll, cha gio, but Wendy wanted to know if they were made with the traditional rice paper or Chinese style spring roll wrappers. It’s pretty common for local Viet places to use the wheat version, but there were some authentic looking menu items so it was worth asking. Here’s the convo:
Wendy: Are the spring rolls made with rice paper?
Waitress: You mean the salad roll?
Wendy: No, the spring rolls. Are they spring roll wrappers or like wrapped in rice paper and then deep-fried?
Waitress: Oh, yeah they’re deep-fried.
Since the waitress obviously had no clue, and no intention of going to the kitchen to ask, Wendy gave up and decided to order them to find out for herself. I should also mention here that the waitress was young, with no accent or vocabulary problems that would confuse our conversations. You’ll see why I mention it in a moment.
To no one’s surprise, the Cha Gio ($2.70 per roll) were not made with rice paper. They were also completely saturated with oil and not the most appetizing of appetizers. If you’re still interested after looking at the lackluster photos, they contained ground pork, glass noodles, and veggies with a side of nondescript fish sauce.
When the waitress brought them to the table I was in the middle of reaching over to an empty chair to hang my jacket on. Rather than be polite and wait a few seconds for me to finish or take the few extra steps to the other side of the table, she chose to reach right over me and tell me to “watch out”. Classy.
According to Pho Boi’s business card, they “only use the freshest ingredients”, so I was a bit surprised that they didn’t bother to pick off the badly rotten basil leaf sitting in obvious view in front of the plate of sprouts, jalapenos, lime, and basil.
To their credit on the topping front though, Wendy asked for her usual extra cilantro and they gave her a generous portion. And it was fresh.
I got a Large Pho Chin Nam Gau Gan Ve Don ($8.50). This one is supposed to be brisket, flank, fatty flank, tendon, and crunchy flank. I sifted through with my chopsticks, excitedly looking for the crunchy flank. I couldn’t find any so I called the waitress over and explained the situation. Here’s the BS that followed:
Waitress: We usually don’t have crispy flank so we just put extras of the other meat instead. We only get it in once in a while.
Me: That was the reason I ordered this dish; for the crunchy flank. Don’t you think it would be better to tell your customers that you’re out when they order it?
Waitress: No, we don’t tell people because we thought everybody knew that’s how Vietnamese restaurants do it.
I was dumbfounded. I had no idea how to respond and just sat there stupefied that here was this brand new restaurant presumably trying to drum up a reputation, blaming their customers for something that was so obviously the restaurant’s issue. Going into a new dining establishment you can normally expect a few hiccups, but you shouldn’t have to expect a waitress who’s been working there a week tops to display such jaded contempt for the people eating there.
Why not make up a sign and have it as “today’s special” then instead of having it on your regular menu? Or add an “ask about availability” to the menu? Why not you ask? Because Pho Boi obviously don’t give a rat’s ass about their customers. If you’re making an “Adventures’ choice” section on your menu you are obviously marketing to non-Vietnamese who are not clued up about the nuances of the Viet dining scene. So don’t presume to know what we want and decide for us because it is us who make the decision on whether to fork over our hard-earned money for your food and in turn support your business.
I should also add that from our experience (we love our pho and eat it frequently), other non-franchise mom-and-pop style places do not have this issue with sourcing. Take Mui Ngo Gai further down Kingsway for example. They have all sorts of interesting and exotic menu items that they actually serve. (Wendy has a review of Mui she’s working on; in the meantime I’ll just say I highly recommend it!)
To be fair at the end of the exchange she asked if I wanted to order something else instead (she wasn’t clear on whether this would have ended up on the bill or not though), but due to time constraints that wasn’t an option, plus Wendy already had her food.
On to the pho. On the plus side there was a good amount of meat, especially of my favourite, the tendon, and the soup smelled delicious. It didn’t quite taste the way it smelled though; the broth was low on salt which was nice, but it was also low on spices which wasn’t so great. It was pretty beefy though.
Wendy had the same issue with the broth from her Regular Pho Tai Nam Gau Gan Sach ($7.45). In her words, it was “franchisey”: thin and rather bland. Hers came with steak, flank, tendon, fatty brisket, and tripe. The tripe was a good crunchy consistency. Overall the pho was just okay, not terrible but definitely nothing special.
On our way out a different employee had this question for us:
Employee: Do you have a stamp card?
Wendy: (obviously doesn’t want one) No.
Employee: (checks pile) Oh I don’t have any more so I can’t give you one.
A perfect end to the evening, hehe.
This is a little off topic but I wanted to throw it in here because this woman never ceases to amaze me with her psychic abilities (don’t worry, we don’t really believe this stuff it’s just fun and kinda interesting). After driving by Pho Boi the first time Wendy wanted to add it on urbanspoon. However urbanspoon requires a phone number so she decided to make one up for the time being:
Well, we grabbed a business card on our visit and guess what the actual number is? 604-436-0001! So we took a screenshot of the original number she had posted. Makes you think, right? 😛
We didn’t realize it until after we got home, but Pho Boi has basically the same menu as Pho Hoa did. Pho Hoa also apparently has the crispy flank issue, as another unhappy customer vented about. So it would not surprise me if the change was just a renovation and re-branding, since Pho Hoa had its share of negative press also. This would explain the server’s remark about only getting the crunchy flank in “once in a while”. If you’ve only been open a week you wouldn’t have any experience to draw on. In fact, if you compare pics of the two restaurants their cha gio look exactly alike…
Update Feb. 7, 2014: We just realized Sherman wrote about their Coquitlam location and it seemed to be the same re-branding story there too.
Well, the more things change the more they stay the same I guess. Hopefully Pho Boi gets its act together or it may well go the way of its predecessor.
Parking: Free underground beneath the restaurant, entrance off of Denbigh Ave.