18 November, 2011

Fabulousness In a Bowl

Ask me how many times I have been told "Oh...it is the BEST place in town for _____!!" (you fill in the blank).  Just ask me...  Ask me how many times a chef has told me that ALL his dishes are the BEST thing on the menu.  The answer to both of those questions is...nearly every time.  Almost every time I get a recommendation for a restaurant someone has characterized it as the best of...something.  Last night I went to a place in Kanata that was "the BEST Vietnamese" an acquaintance of mine has ever had.  I couldn't argue...and still can't even after having gone there for two reasons...as experienced with food as I am I've never eaten somewhere that was authentic Vietnamese and because of that I have nothing else in town to compare it to.  Makes it hard on a gal to be accurate.  

Every time I have had Vietnamese or Korean it has been at some "Asian Fusion" type restaurant where their menu couldn't be typified into any certain Asian category...not Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese...their menus featured some of each.  Fast forward to moving from the U.S. to Canada...  You have all of those countries represented and MORE!  Either way we were on our way to Ox Head in Kanata, the "BEST" place in "all of Ottawa" for Vietnamese.

 We arrived just a bit before the dinner hour which didn't end up making much of a difference here.  People were coming in and out all night for phone orders and to dine in while we were there.  The way things work is you walk in, pick a table, look through the menu and write your own order ticket and take it to the front counter.  We didn't know that until we were ready to order our main entrees.  Oops...  The manager came to our table with some tea and I asked him what he would recommend to someone who has never had Vietnamese.  I already knew he was going to recommend pho (pronounced "fa") because everyone does, but I was more interested in some of their Vietnamese specialty dishes.  We placed an order for a large serving of some deep fried spring rolls with fish sauce and we went to work figuring out what we wanted for our entrees.

The flavor of the tea was just okay, it didn't knock my socks off...but I really appreciated having something warm to drink now that the first flurries have landed in Ottawa.  It took me quite a while to decide what I wanted.  I knew I was in the mood for spice (as per usual) and I wanted something that wasn't too heavy but would still keep me feeling full for a while after dinner.  Sometimes when I eat Chinese...I am hungry less than an hour afterward.  I flipped back and forth between pho and their specialty page.  I finally settled on Stir-Fried Beef with Lemongrass on Vermicelli.  That is served with julienned lettuce, cucumber, and onion; bean sprouts, peanuts and their fish sauce.  It sounded like a substantial amount of food.  The hostess brought our spring rolls to the table and the order for our main entrees went in.  

Deep Fried Crispy Spring Rolls w/ Fish Sauce

We said our prayer and got the Sprout to eating.  These came out piping hot so I picked them apart for him...they were even too hot for me to start with.  But that just gave me time to look around.  Really, there wasn't much to see.  Ox Head isn't that large of a place; it is kinda medium for eat-in size.  But they make the most of their space for sure.

When I got back to the table the spring rolls were cool enough for me to eat.  They were surprisingly delicious.  I say surprising because when you pick them up you are immediately inundated with oil...even the Sprout was holding his hands out asking for napkins.  But...you dip those rolls in that fish sauce and BAM...greasy gone and only yummy remains.  They were pretty darn awesome.  Crispy on the outside and savory on the inside; every bite was as good as the last.  The hostess came with our main entrees just a couple minutes after this.

Stir-Fried Beef w/ Lemongrass on Vermicelli

It smelled amazing!  I could SMELL the spice in it...this was gonna be great!  I sticked right in to the bottom to grab some noodles to go with my meat and veggies; it is always nice to get a little of everything in the first bite.  It was fabulous!  The meat was juicy and tender, all the vegetables were cooked until they were just starting to be tender and the noodles were perfect.  I wasn't used to having my cold salad served in the same bowl as my hot entree, but there is a first time for everything.  The salad was definitely made from fresh ingredients, especially the bean sprouts.  I'm pretty picky about my sprouts...ANY sign of brown on them and I get spastic.  Their sprouts were wonderfully bright, crisp and the whitish yellow color they should have been.  I didn't feel like I needed the fish sauce to make this dish any better, it held its own.  It was filling without being heavy, just like I wanted.

Ox Head definitely hit it out of the park with my food.  When I walked in and started asking questions and saying I was a flogger...that can get to feel like an enormous amount of pressure to ANY normal person.  The manager was calm, knowledgeable about his menu and seemed very confident during our interaction at the beginning of the night.  When we were leaving and I let him know his food was great, he was very gracious; their service during the meal was spot on.  Behavior like this before, during and after a meal goes a very long way with me.  I can't eat much in one sitting, so the experience as a whole (lighting, service, comfortable seats, noise level...) really makes a huge difference on how I view the experience of the food.  Of course, my bottom line will ALWAYS be how the food tasted, but I am sold.  I totally believe that Ox Head is one of the best places for Vietnamese in Ottawa.  C'mon down to Ox Head in Kanata and check 'em out for yourself.  Let me know what you think.  Enjoy your meal!

Ox Head on Urbanspoon

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