Pho Tien Thanh
The first thing I notice walking into Pho Tien Thanh on a Saturday evening is the crowd: every table is full. The second thing I observe is the hush. Pho Tien Thanh is packed with people, but human voices are just a murmur, a muffled refrain in a symphony dominated by sips, slurps and slops.
I sit down and look around. Pho Tien Thanh isn't much to look at: it's grungy and small. When I visit the bathrooms later, I find them cramped in a damp corner of basement, missing their locks. Never mind. As long as I'm upstairs, I won't need my eyes. I close them, and my nose tells the real story: rich broth of cracked bones, deep beef and aromatic star anise.
For my ears, communion: the peaceful sloshing of fellow diners a reminder that I am truly with my people. Give me an endless bucket of this broth, and I will give you a world of quiet contentment.
A bone for the less poetically inclined: service is fast, prices are cheap, food is excellent. In addition to redolent rare beef and brisket phos, the spring rolls are crisp and light, and chicken pho is light and tangy. Blue-eyed diners may raise server's eyebrows on ordering crackled pork skin spring rolls-- are you sure you don't mean salad spring rolls? --but staff and patron alike will smile when the crumbs are removed. Mango shakes are a little stringy, but it's winter and a world away from mango trees. Jackfruit shakes are smoother, and their coconut cousin is rich and mild.
For the sycophants: Susur Lee, a believer in the quality of Vietnamese food in Toronto told me he loves the pho here. I interviewed him recently, and he and I had a moment when Pho Tien Thanh came up, both of us excited to discover our shared love for its broth. This is why I'm back, but not why I'll keep coming. Celebuchef endorsement is nice, and I'm thankful to the blogTO reader comments that brought me here the first time, but neither is the reason for my return. I'll come back here--repeatedly--because this place is an escape from sensibility to senses, a reminder that the best food can bring us to only the necessary senses, a present moment that is juicy with flavour and as pleasant for the ears as it is for the taste buds.