Against my better judgement, F and I decided to check out the new Viet / Thai restaurant that took over a bar/restaurant location in the Steeles/Warden T&T plaza. (I believe it was a Casey's before). And I don't usually write reviews of bad places, but this was such a funny experience that I really wanted to share.
First lesson, when you enter a Viet/Thai place with no sight of any body working in the place remotely able to speak either language. It's not a good start. I'm not against other asian races trying to exploit popular cuisine genres for their own financial gains. But it is what it is.
But that's not where the disorienting experience begins. Walked up to the door where a big sign says "cash only", but right next to it.. a VISA accepted sign.... DISORIENTING!. Goes to show how much effort management put into renovating and redecorating the place... almost like they're just a turn-and-burn joint looking to make money for the short term and get out with the lowest amount of cost with no long term aspirations.
Inside, the entire decor has not changed 1 single bit. It's still a bar / restaurant decor. If you want posters of Avril Lavgine, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts and John Travolta staring at you while eating Pho, this is the place..... disorienting to say the least.
There's something to be said about the simplicity and efficiency of communal tables used by most Vietnamese joints. I kinda missed that open dining area experience as we were ushered into private booths, sitting deep into fine upholstered banquettes with no extra chopsticks/spoons in sight... a bare table with minimal condiments (2 squeeze bottles), a place mat with unnecessary "what is pho?" explanations, Did I mention that the booths provide the perfect camouflage as you are out-of-sight of your waiter/waitress.. with no possibility of getting their attention for your order/bill. I would expect some background music at a venue like this, but it was thankfully absent.. Why? Because you walk into a chatter filled market place of activities typical of a Vietnamese noodle house. My brain struggled to compute with the lively atmosphere clashing with the ambiance. Try imagining eating plain hot dog with fork-n-knife in a french white table cloth full service setting and you'll be close to where I was that day. The whole experience is so foreign and disorienting to me, I started to question my own existence.
We're shown a menu that betrays their aspirations to be viewed as high class place. Also evident in their choice of plating presentations. Yet all that effort is met with a singular laziness to bring any sort of harmony of the food with the atmosphere. It's constant juxtaposition disorienting my nervous systems. I quickly scanned their vast menu of predominantly viet dishes and a few south-east asian / thai dishes. A menu that is overly complicated like this doesn't promise to put quality first. But order and I will find out.
I dare not try their thai dishes, I ordered a beef pho and a vermicelli with spring roll and bbq pork.. You can easily taste the msg in the pho soup (I wonder why they didn't mention that ingredient in their place-mat history lesson). Now I grew up eating msg in my food, so a little bit is no big deal. I'm not against msg, but I'm against it in these quantities! The noodle had a slight aftertaste, as if something was wrong with it. The beef slices didn't seem/taste fresh. A below average poor example of Pho especially when you consider they are at the same price level / more expensive than 2 other Viet-owned pho restaurants in the area (Pho Viet & Pho 88). Why anybody would pay $8 for XL pho of this quality is beyond my comprehension. Would the vermecilli fare any better? The accompanying sauce was uninspiring and below generic. The noodle were no good, the springroll was soggy and tasted only of fried pork with no actual flavour. The bbq pork was alright, but that is hard to mess up.
All I can say is that dining at Star King is an experience - a severely disorienting one. Save your money and go to Pho 88 or Pho Viet. I do not believe their thai dish would fare any better. The funniest part is that we walked into a packed house. But I noticed nobody lingered for long, and several big tables were reserved for big parties. I guess this is the type of place that's perfect for someone to host birthday celebration dinners on the cheap! They got the space, and they got the cheap food, but you're paying for cheap atmosphere and cheap food for sure. I wouldn't want to be invited to that party. If you've been there, tell me I was wrong?!?
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