Xe Lua Vietnamese Cuisine
I think that pho may be the world's most perfect food .Warming on cold days, hydrating on warm ones and always delicious, pho is the ideal antidote to whatever pains Ma Nature or my last night of
hardcore yoga are slinging. I like giving toxins the boot with replenishing liquid, burning chilis, and nourishing beef, veg and herbs.
My love for pho is not just a matter of health and taste, however. Like all great loves, mine is also etymological. Close on the sound-scale to "for" and "ful", Vietnam's finest export instantly reduces me to that most reviled comic genius: the punster. Delight-pho mouth-phos of broth and hand-phos of basil have me pho-getting myself faster than I can say wonder-pho!
Seriously: this dish is such ripe inspiration for punny hilarity that I was surprised when all my friends were too busy to join me for an un-pho-gettable lunch at Xe Lua.
Well, those pun-haters missed out, 'cause I've been dining at Xe Lua long enough to know what to order, and it isn't the pho! Xe Lua's version is pretty good, but in a city blessed with many superior phos, I go to one of these places when I want Vietnamese soup.
On this visit to Pho Train (like many of this city's fine citizens, I don't know how to pronounce Xe Lua, and often call it Pho Train, or The Train Restaurant), I ordered the BBQ Chicken Vermicelli. Salty, liberally oiled chicken chunks topped a bowl of finely shredded cabbage, mint, carrots, and rice noodles. I dumped the entire side of tangy fish sauce - the same kind that comes with spring rolls--over my bowl, creating a delightful melange of salt, sweet, grease and vegetable crisp.
The BBQ Chicken Vermicelli was tasty, but a little greasier than I'd have liked. Next time I go to Xe Lua, I'll follow the advice I give to friends: this restaurant's best options are always pictured on the menu.
My top choices: Beef Stew with Rice Noodle Soup, a hearty beef soup that tastes like my British dad's crock-pot roast went to Vietnam and rolled in basil for a week; Three Beef Vermicelli Combo, a great sharing plate filled with beef rolls (beef and greens with more beef inside), pickled radish and carrots, lettuce, sprouts and fine rice papers for wrapping; Shrimp Cracker Pork with Rice Noodle and Yellow Noodle Soup, a tangy broth topped with a crunchy pink cracker; and Vegetarian Spring Rolls, crisp and served classically with a side of fish sauce.
I also get excited about Xe Lua's wide selection of drinks, ranging from regular treats like Vietnamese drip coffee and fresh squeezed orange-juice to my favourite: Red Bean and Grass Jelly with Coconut Milk. This whimsical multi-layered concoction comes with a spoon and has the power to transport me out of adulthood and back into my fantasy childhood, where all drinks came layered in sundae glasses and were so reasonably priced that Mum would have to let me order them with dinner.
My biggest beefs with Xe Lua are that their gloppy, glutinous Satay bowls are still on the re-vamped menu and that their floors are perma-slicked with pho-juice and other greases. That's why I've vowed to lay off on the punning for now, because I need all the friends I can get to help me cross those slippery tiles, and finish those jumbo Beef Vermicelli combos.