Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Vietnam Palace (Calgary)

Great pho is one of the things that I really don't take advantage enough of as a Calgarian. If Calgary can get one thing right, it's definitely a good bowl of pho. Sure, we have some good Korean and Japanese restaurants here, but the sheer abundance of authentic Viet restos in our city is what allows for some competition between restaurants, which yields some really delicious and cheap options to be found in our city.

Seafood Noodle Soup ($12.50) with sprouts and basil mixed in

To start off, I have to say that Vietnam Palace was not a place that I'd had on my short list of restaurants to try. I've driven past by it a number of times while driving to Sura (Korean food) and had made a mental note of its existence, but after checking out some reviews on Urbanspoon, I wasn't racing to go try it out (especially since there are so many great Viet places right in Chinatown, much closer to where I live).

But so it happened that my mum had scored a pair of vouchers for Vietnam Palace. And since my dad doesn't like Vietnamese food (huh?!), my parents weren't planning to go, so my mom asked me if I'd like to go with the boyfriend instead. --- Umm, hells yah!

$10-Off Vouchers my mom gave me

We went on a Friday night around 7pm. There is a moderate-sized parking lot outside, so parking wasn't an issue at all. No wait time either once we got inside -- we went in and were immediately seated at a booth by a friendly waitress who brought us our tea and our menus right away.

Restaurant Entrance. Plenty of parking in their parking lot out front.

I'll just be upfront here: I was a little surprised at the outstandingly tacky decor. Now, don't get me wrong.... I'm here to eat pho, not the wallpaper, and I'm certainly not expecting any fancy ambiance, but this place is really hit-you-over-the-head with its tackiness. It's actually kind of charming and quirky in its own way: back-lit menus near by the kitchens, mismatched couch upholstery, some funky Asian-inspired transparent booth dividers, and pink-painted walls. I think the redeeming factor here was that it was brightly lit unlike many hole-in-the-wall Viet places, so it looks more clean(??) and spacious(???)... .... ... Not sure, also it doesn't matter.

Restaurant Interior: what's with the booth dividers?

Now the waitresses there were quite nice. They don't speak a lot of English but just enough that you can easily order, and they were pleasant, cheerful, and efficient even though there were just the two of them and they each had their hands pretty full.. Overall, it was very standard no-fuss Asian-restaurant type service -- they take your order, give you your food, and leave you alone. Works for me.

Anyways. Menu menu menu. Lots of options at this place (there were more pages to the menu than pictured below), so it was kind of hard to decide. We decided to split an appetizer and each order an entree.

Menu: Appetizers

Menu: Noodle Soups
Menu: Satay Noodle Soups & Vermicelli Entrees
Menu: Vermicelli Entrees

With appetizers, we decided to go with two salad rolls ($4.50) to keep things light. These arrived right away, presumably made ahead of time. Unfortunately, these were kind of a dud. They were room temperature, filled with mostly vermicelli, a bit of lettuce and carrot, and had just two pieces of halved shrimp plus a tiny tiny shred of sliced chicken per salad roll. I was pretty disappointed -- especially at $2.50 per roll, this was a pretty big flop. Will not order again.

Salad Rolls (two for $4.50)

Moving on. For an entree, I decided to go for pho of some sort. My usual pho go-to is some variation of rare beef noodle soup, but today their #27 Seafood Noodle Soup ($10.50) and its picture in the menu was really calling out to me. Okay, sure. I kind of wanted a cold vermicelli entree too, but figured that that's what stealing-off-the-boyfriend's-plate is good for.

Seafood Noodle Soup ($10.50)

The seafood noodle soup was pretty tasty. Their broth was very flavorful without being too salty or too greasy, and made for a nice light dinner. The seafood assortment included imitation crab meat, shrimp, and squid in a reasonable portion, topped with thinly sliced white onions and scallions. Served up with your standard bean sprouts, fresh basil, and chili pepper to be mixed into the soup (pictured at top). Plenty and plenty of noodles.

The boyfriend ordered #56 Grilled Combo Vermicelli ($12.99), which had a portion of each of the meats (pork, chicken, beef, shrimp), a spring roll, and assorted veggies (lettuce, carrots, sprouts). Topped with thinly sliced green onions and crushed peanuts.

Grilled Combo Vermicelli ($12.99)

The grilled combo vermicelli was pretty good too; each of the meats were nicely charred, well-seasoned, and not too greasy. The spring roll was better than the salad rolls we'd had as our appetizer (this was at least clearly freshly fried and the correct temperature), but was at the same time pretty standard fare and nothing to write home about. The balance of meat-to-veggies-to-noodles was fine, although my boyfriend did comment on the huge portion of noodles. For 13 bucks, this entree was a little on the pricey side if compared to other Viet places in the city with comparable/better quality, so I guess that was the only downside.

Lots of carb-inhaling later, I managed to finish all of the seafood, all of the broth (I love pho broth), but struggled in the final leg of the race with the hefty portion of noodles, as I always do when I go on my pho-eating adventures. Sometimes I get my unfinished-food receptacle boyfriend to eat the noodles for me (before I've stripped them of soup), but on that day he was so full himself that he didn't want to bother.

Failure at finishing all the noodles. :(

Overall, I'd say that this place is just OK. The salad rolls were a disappointing way to start off the meal, but the entrees were both reasonably well-made. I liked that the noodle entrees weren't greasy, and that there were plenty of options and variations to choose from. It would have been nice to see some portion size options, as some other noodle houses offer; both our entrees were definitely too big, and had I been given the option, I definitely would've selected a smaller size. A final note is that the pricing at Vietnamese Palace is somewhat higher than other Vietnamese restaurants in the city, while not really offering any more in quality (or quantity, not that anyone should ever need that much food). I guess I'd stop by again if I were in the neighborhood or if a friend wanted to go, but I probably wouldn't go out of my way to visit here again.

Food 3/5 - Pretty standard pho and cold vermicelli; nothing to write home about. Good soup base. Enjoyed that none of it was greasy (probably had to do with our menu choices too). Salad rolls were too warm and lacked non-filler ingredients. - My pick: #56 Grilled Combo Vermicelli
Value/Price 3/5 ($8-15)
Ambiance 3/5 - Quirky, weird renovation: makes the place less dingy than some other hole-in-the-wall pho places, but just looks kinda odd. Spacious and comfortable.
Service/Wait 4/5 - No wait on a Friday night. Parking was fine. Exactly what you expect in a pho restaurant: take your order, give you food, leave you alone.
Overall 3/5

Vietnam Palace Grill & Noodle House
308 16 Ave NW
Calgary, AB
(403) 276-9990

Vietnam Palace Grill & Noodle House on Urbanspoon

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