Sep. 05, 2012 - Issue #881: Sex 2012
Off the beaten path
Tau Bay's pho deserves its cult status
Pho, which is a Vietnamese broth-based noodle soup, is available at many eateries across Edmonton, but the venerable Tau Bay has cult status among the city's pho fans. This aura of attraction and mystery is fueled by wildly unpredictable hours and a relative absence of ostentatious signage. Tau Bay is nestled just off the main drag in Chinatown and is easy to miss for those not intentionally on a pho quest. Its understated interior features utilitarian chairs and tables livened up by a quirky aquarium of colourful and ridiculously realistic plastic fish.
The menu is concise, divided only into pho and beverages. Various cuts of beef, from the approachable steak to the daunting tripe, comprise the bulk of Tau Bay's pho. Chicken and meatballs are also featured, but are unavailable on this particular evening. We sip gratis cups of green tea and select two bowls of pho. The "special combo" features a cow's ransom of beef: steak, brisket, flank, tendon and tripe. Our second selection includes steak, flank and brisket; different ratios and proportions of these beef cuts actually comprise all of Tau Bay's pho ($6.70/bowl).
We sip on French-style coffee with condensed milk ($2.85). It is served, as is done in southeastern Asia, over ice. It is properly strong and rich. A smattering of unusually exotic beverages also grace Tau Bay's menu, not the least of which includes Iced Egg Yolk with Soda ($3.95) and Iced Salted Plum. The former is visually disconcerting, for it arrives as two raw egg yolks at the bottom of a tall glass. Proper procedure is to mix in a can of club soda, and then pour the entire mixture over ice. The end result is a remarkably pleasing pale yellow fizz that tastes not unlike mild custard. It sounds utterly bizarre on paper, yet plays out as a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Salted Plum ($3.50), however, is saline to the point of being undrinkable. Consuming this beverage is akin to sipping seawater and is doubtless an acquired taste. Small chucks of salted, fermented plum do little to enhance enjoyment of this unusual concoction.
Both bowls of pho are richly brothy. The abundant liquid is deeply flavoured with beef and can be adjusted to taste with lime juice, red chili paste, bean sprouts and fresh mint leaves, all of which are automatically provided as condiments. Two squeezes of lime juice, a small sprinkle of mint leaves and a tiny spoonful of chili paste add layers of heat and zest that render the broth into a complex meal unto itself. The slices of beef brisket, steak and flank are delicately tender and demurely meaty. The tendrils of tripe are admittedly creepy to look at, but provide an intriguing burst of chewy-crispy texture. Try as I might, though, I cannot find any beef tendon in my pho and wonder what element it would have added. The other bowl of pho is strikingly similar in flavour and, minus the tripe and tendon, differs only in texture.
Tau Bay clearly ascribes to the philosophy of focusing on only one thing and doing that one thing very well. Its cult status is thus well deserved and it warrants a search through the side streets of Chinatown to indulge in a fragrant bowl of tender noodles and rich cuts of beef.
10660 - 98 St
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