This column is about hunching over a really good bowl of soup on a wintry-spring day, chopsticks in one hand, spoon in the other, and feeling the gloom I walked in with evaporate. The parking ticket just received? Whatever. The snow that won’t go? This too shall pass. All seemed well with the world again. Such is the power of good soup and kind service.
It’s also about the disappointment of returning to the source of that soup – The Pho Shack – to find that not much else measured up.
The grilled meats – chicken and pork – served with vermicelli, rice and salad were thinly sliced and dry. The quail was over-grilled, the seasoning muted. The rice paper wraps were missing the thrill of fresh herbs – mint, basil, shiso, something to lift them – and the peanut sauce served alongside was pedestrian, I suspect from a jug. The beef salad was also missing the promised herbs, the crushed peanut, and the warm, chili-flecked beef over the chopped salad was terribly tough.
The Vietnamese spring rolls were fine, crunchy packages. I’d return for those. And for the soup. Granted, I’ve tried only the Bún bò Hue, but it was a vibrant broth, deep of well-mined bones, aromatic of lemongrass and star anise, lightly sweet and mildly face-slapping. If you like your spicy Hue-style noodle soup to rob you of breath, you’ll need to doctor it further table side – this one’s chili heat level suited me very well.
There are vegetarian options – including broth – which is rare in a Vietnamese restaurant, and welcome.
I like the small room – black and red, with woody warmth – and service at this ‘shack’ is bright and welcoming.
Soup, $9 to $11; ‘Off the Grill’, $13
Open daily 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
1202 Wellington St. W., 613-656-8508