If your mission were to source something quick and good to eat, before or after a movie at the AMC Theatre in Kanata, Ox Head would fit the bill very nicely. Directly across the plaza in the Centrum Mall, it’s a bright, tidy place, unpretentious, with dark wood floors, cream and orange walls, and red tablecloths.
I’m not sure the house spring rolls are any better for you than movie popcorn, but they are just as addictive. Much healthier are the fresh rice paper wraps, but these are less tasty for their lack of anything herbaceous in them. While the flavour burst of fresh mint or basil – or, ideally, both – make these wraps what they are, Ox Head’s version came without those aromatics.
Naturally, there is pho, meal-size noodle soups stocked with various cuts of beef. These come in three personal sizes, but the smallest ($7) will fill you up. For something racier, go for the outrageously flavourful bò kho. I like mi bò kho, otherwise known as HC6, with egg noodles. This is a fiery beef stew, the broth fragrant of anise, slightly sweet with layers of heat, piled high and prettily with carrots, daikon, onion, basil.
Dishes better suited for sharing are what we order next. Our server, who seems utterly bored with his job this mid- week night, (and is really the only disappointment in our otherwise fine time here) trundles three plates to our table. The first contains pickled carrots, strips of cucumber, fresh mint and basil, lettuce, chopped peanuts. The second is a plate of grilled shrimp and chicken on a bed of rice vermicelli; and the third holds softened rice paper to bundle up the contents of platters one and two. This is fun, healthy, tasty stuff and we bundle more than we should, dipped in a fish-sauce vinaigrette. Grilled shrimp and pork on crispy noodles with the usual-suspect vegetables are nicely done, the shrimp a good size, crunchy and sweet, the vegetables perfectly cooked, but the sum of the parts isn’t terribly interesting. Or perhaps everything pales after the bò kho.
Vegetarians will need to keep flipping the Ox Head menu, past the beef, pork, chicken and seafood dishes, past the page of Thai-style coconut curries (the red curry of chicken was fine, though nothing to cross town for), to the very back of the book, where they’ll find a page of dishes based on tofu, plus some vegetarian spring rolls.
To drink, there’s a bit of beer, a few choices of wine by the glass, and no shortage of shakes and bubble drinks, plus a delicious fresh lemonade. If you need a sweet ending, there’s tempura-battered banana, fried crisp and brown and crackling, the banana within soft, the grease sopped up with ice cream. Order this and you’ll doze through the film. Unless, of course, you’ve had a Vietnamese coffee. In which case you’ll be eyes wide open.