Friday, February 28, 2014

Go and Pho

Multi-cultural food fare is alive and well in Windsor. At any given day or time, you can indulge in a variety of ethnic cuisines. Vietnamese is a personal favourite. After being introduced to it by a friend, I soon found out that not all places are equally satisfying. With House of Lee closing, owner Tina Huynh opened, in its place, Pho Maxim, located at 567 Pelissier Street.

So let’s get right into it.

Honestly, the decor and atmosphere was pretty standard, with scenic wall-art, decorative flowers/plants, and TV’s above each corner of the room. However, the bright yellow walls added a nice warmth in contrast with the dark wooden furniture.

The yellow walls at Pho Maxim nicely temper the dark wood accents, providing a pleasant dining experience. Photo by Melissa Arditti.

Starting off, we had an appetizer plate which consisted of two spring rolls, two summer rolls, one sugar cane shrimp, spiced pork sausage, grilled beef, vegetables, peanut sauce, and fish sauce.

The Pho Maxim appetizer platter. Photo by Melissa Arditti.

All the meat was cooked well and had an abundance of flavour. I also really liked the shrimp, although the sugar cane was a little hard to chew. The lightly pickled shredded vegetables (lettuce, cabbage, and carrots) complemented this dish well, with a hint of sweetness.

Another added bonus was the crispy tofu in the summer rolls. It’s those little touches that made the appetizer plate wonderful to enjoy. The one suggestion; the option of unsalted peanuts, due to a lot of the other spices used, that already have a fair amount of saltiness to them.

Next came our main courses; vermicelli with grilled pork, and vermicelli with grilled chicken.
After the first bite, we both agreed that this was the most tender meat that we have had at any Vietnamese restaurant. Again, the flavours were wonderful and those pickled vegetables just sang in our mouths

Vermicelli with grilled pork. Photo by Melissa Arditti.

Vermicelli with grilled chicken. Photo by Melissa Arditti.

Portion-wise, we found out after our meal that these bowls were “small” and, for $8.50 each, you are getting your money’s worth; with a good chance of leftovers, if you can manage to put down your chopsticks or utensils. The freshness of ingredients and care put into each dish was evident.

To end the meal, Tina suggested that we try a couple of their desserts.

Dessert shakes at Pho Maxim include (l to r) coconut, durian, and three coloured.
 Photo by Melissa Arditti.

First was the coconut milkshake which was a bit heavy, but so frothy and delicious that you just keep diving back into it. It wasn't overly-sweet at all.

Next up was the durian milkshake that Tina warned us had a bold acquired taste some people love, like herself, and others don’t. Durian is known as “the world’s stinkiest fruit.” And that it is. After taking a whiff, the distinct smell was pretty strong and, for us, after attempting a few sips, it was not tasty at all. However, by all means try it out. You may actually like it.

Not expecting this one to come in a tall glass, the Three Colour Dessert was phenomenal with sweet mung beans, red beans, pandan (a tropical plant that is known for having an almond/vanilla aroma and even some medicinal properties) jelly covered in a coconut cream and topped with shaved ice. Pushing the ice down with the spoon and then delving into all the other elements offers a nice cooling sensation that has a lot of different textures.

As for the overall service, it was excellent.

Tina Huynh is very intuitive in what a customer wants and didn't bat an eyelash when a group of 10 very hungry customers came in all at once. It shows her experience and ability to deal with high volumes in a restaurant setting. You cannot help but feel that you just made a friend after leaving.

Tina has successfully brought an entirely new feel to the once derelict Pelissier Street. Offering not only dine-in service, but take out and delivery, as well as offering various hours to meet their hungry patrons! We welcome with open arms Pho Maxim to our city and hope it’s here to stay.

You can visit Pho Maxim online and “like” them on Facebook.

For a little more insight into the restaurant, I had a chance to correspond with Tina, via e-mail, after our incredible meal.

Can you describe your first “pho” experience and how this translates into your restaurant here in Windsor.

To be honest, I can’t even remember my first bowl of pho! It’s a staple food in our house and I grew up eating it all the time. My mother makes a fantastic bowl of pho and I can remember when we used to gather around the table with our big spread of bean sprouts, lime and herb and eat it all together. I know you guys didn’t try the pho on your visit but perhaps you would come back soon and give it a try! It’s delicious. My brother loves to add a whole bunch of hoisin sauce to the broth to add a more salty flavour to the soup.

What is the meaning/significance of the restaurant title Pho Maxim?

I knew when I was presented with the opportunity to take over the House of Lee restaurant location, I couldn’t pass it up. I have always enjoyed food and the Vietnamese culture heavily revolves around it. “Did you eat yet?” is the first question you ask a friend that comes to visit your house right after you greet them.
I can’t go to a family gathering without each and every single aunt giving me plates of food. I look at the restaurant as an extension of my home and every guest as an extension of my family. I get to feed everyone that comes through my doors! It’s great!
We have quite a big selection of food on our menu and it allows our guests to experience Vietnamese cuisine that goes beyond a simple rice plate or vermicelli bowl.
I would highly recommend curious minds to try the Vietnamese Pancake (S1) and even more daring individuals to try the Bun Mam (S6), fermented fish soup. It’s hard to describe, but it’s tangy, sweet and sour, and a little bit smelly. It is definitely not for everyone but it is one of my favourites on the menu.
Our restaurant name was chosen by our Chef. She had a restaurant in Windsor about twenty years ago by the same name on Wyandotte Street West, so we took this opportunity to revive her wonderful old restaurant.
I’ve actually had customers come in and ask if we have any affiliation with the previous restaurant on Wyandotte and people were very happy to see that our Chef was back in Windsor with a new restaurant, serving the same great food she did back in the day. It’s like we are already a part of Windsor’s history even though we’ve only been open a few months!

It’s interesting to see how food is constructed and displayed. I notice in a lot of vermicelli bowls that either they place the bean sprouts right on top or directly on the bottom, is that a Vietnamese food practice or is there another special reason?

I don’t think there is a specific reason for the way the food is presented in our restaurant. Everything about the food – the smell, the taste, and the look – all represent the Chef and her vision. She believes that food presentation is a key element to enjoying the meal and strives to make every single dish look colourful, delicious, and simple, just makes you want to jump right in and get started.

Pho Maxim gets 4 out of 4 Purple Muse's.