The Place: Pho Thu Do is one of at least a dozen Vietnamese restaurants in Chinatown, many of which have the word “pho” in their names. My personal favourite go-to place for traditional long-simmered “build-your-own” Vietnamese noodle soup recently relocated a few doors west of its former spot at 765 Somerset. The new place is equally sparse, but this one is brighter, more open, and probably twice as big, situated on a single level rather than the quirky two-tiered layout of the original. According to one of the staff, we may see further expansion when the space next door becomes available.
The Deal: One of the charms of Pho Thu Do has always been the straight-forward menu: a couple of dozen varieties of pho and one type of springroll, available in sets of two or four. That’s it. Presumably more space in the kitchen inspired the staff to expand the menu to include broken rice and cold vermicelli salads (Bun), topped with a selection of marinated grilled meats, shrimp, or egg. There are vegetarian versions as well. And if fresh salad rolls and deep fried wontons were on the old menu, I have no memory of it.
The Dish: Popping into the new location for the first time, I was tempted to try one of the new dishes. But once I caught a whiff of that gorgeous mahogany-hued soup broth, I decided to stick with Pho Tai, beef broth noodle soup topped with medium rare beef slices. It is everything pho should be and satisfies on every level: the broth is clear and rich and softly fragrant; the noodles are silky, slippery, and supremely slurp-able; the steaming bowls are generous in size, served quickly and piping hot.; the herbs and sprouts are fresh and abundant; and the tender beef slices are thin, cooking in seconds in the hot broth. One little quibble: I was served a wedge of lemon rather than lime which is, to my mind, key.
A visit to Pho Thu Do is not complete without an order of their fabulous shrimp spring rolls, which remind me very much of Nem served in France: the pastry wrapper is crackly and bubbly rather than sheet-like. It is deeply bronzed and bursting with flavour, both crispy and chewy at once. Wrapped in a leaf of lettuce (next time I’ll ask for mint as well) and dunked in a nicely balanced nuac cham, these little guys are a don’t-miss.
So what if my teapot and lid were mismatched, the tea was exceptionally delicious. There may be more elbow room and menu items at the new Pho Thu Do, but it feels familiar in all the important ways.
Pho Thu Do, 781 Somerset St. W., 613-567-1188, www.phothudo.com