Crystal BBQ Noodle House
Crystal BBQ Noodle House used to be the Jasmine Noodle House – in fact, the original signage on the purple awning over the door remains, with a Crystal BBQ sign in the window. We were not sure at first that we were even in the right place. Upon entering, our olfactory senses were filled with the smell of barbecue meat, and we saw a table of people cooking their own food on one of those little portable stoves. Were we in a noodle house or a barbecue restaurant?
Our menus indicated noodle house. The majority of the menu were the typical dishes expected in a Vietnamese noodle house, especially pho (noodle soup) and vermicelli bowls. I opted for a rare beef pho, while co-Volunteer Coordinator Colleen had a steamed chicken pho. For appetizers, she chose a half order of shrimp and pork salad rolls while I had green onion cakes.
Our appetizers were brought while I sipped my jasmine tea, rich in flavour. My onion cakes were crispy and delicious. Colleen raved about her salad rolls. We both looked around and kept admiring the beautiful decor of the dining area. With anticipation, we looked forward to our soups arriving.
After a short while, two steaming bowls of pho were placed before us. My bowl was big enough, but did not seem to have as much broth as I am used to. There were loads of noodles though, and I dipped my spoon in to taste the broth. Alas, there was not much flavour – the only seasoning I could really taste was salt. I would have put some of the herbs typically served to the side, but all we were given was a tiny plate with a few sprouts, a lime wedge, and a leaf that I had never seen before when having pho. The meat tasted good enough – all six slices of it, which were already cooked through by the time the bowl arrived at the table (rare beef pho is supposed to be served rare).
Colleen had a similar experience with her soup. Although she doused the broth with salt and soy sauce, she commented that it was flavourless. The tiny shreds of chicken tasted good – almost too good. We suspected they were processed or laden with MSG. Neither of us finished our soup, nor took home the leftovers.
The prices are slightly higher than other noodle houses, so I could not understand why the portions of meat were so small. While paying the bill, our server explained that they had kept the lunch menu from the previous owners, and the evening menu was barbecue. Judging from the rich, meaty smells that greeted us, I am willing to bet the barbecue is not bad – however, given how bad our soups were, neither of us are willing to return to find out.
Here is a suggestion: if you take over a restaurant, don’t try to be all things to all people. Either change the menu to what you do best, or learn how to prepare the existing menu items properly. Any pho lover would have been disappointed by their meal – we sure were.