Sprout (15 St. Clair West, at Yonge, 416-929-2541) Complete meals for $17.50 per person, including all taxes, tip and a mango juice. Average main $6.25. Open Monday to Thursday 11 am to 7:30 pm, Friday 11 am to 6:30 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier free. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
St. Clair and Yonge is a long way from Spadina and College, and in certain respects Sprout is a long way from your typical fluorescent-lit Vietnamese restaurant. The real difference is style. Coldplay warbles discreetly over the speakers, the room is decorated with wavy accents and mirrors, and a slew of abstract paintings adorn the walls of the long narrow space. How many Vietnamese restaurants have a salad named after the owner's postmodern robot collection?
While the design is a departure from Vietnamese basic, the short menu is not. Rolls, rice combos, vermicelli and pho dominate.
The spring rolls ($3.74) are crisp and greaseless; the filling is fine, but nix the plum sauce.
The aforementioned Robot Salad, with added tofu ($4/$2.99 without/$4.50 with beef or chicken/$4.95 with shrimp), is a mound of very fresh grated cabbage garnished with dried onion, basil and a few peanuts. Doused with a sweet vinegar dressing, it's a healthy and pleasant bowl of greens.
One of the few items at Sprout that rises above pleasant is the grilled pork vermicelli ($6.25).
The pork strips on their bed of noodles are redolent of grill smoke and extremely tender. Less dramatic is the rare beef and well-done brisket pho ($6.25). The beef, noodles and quantity are fine - what's missing is depth of flavour.
The dessert decision is simple: green bean or red bean ice cream popsicles ($1.75), perhaps the ultimate solution for kids who won't eat their vegetables.
Sprout does a roaring lunch trade with the uptown office crowd - a worthwhile, fresh and healthy choice.