Posted by: Sean Carter | January 26, 2013

#111: Pho Hang

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Last night I took my third stab at Vietnamese food.  The first was for one of my earliest posts at Bo Bo Cafe.  The 2nd was at Asian Blossom, though just casually, for my first bowl of pho.  I’ve had a so-so impression of the cuisine so far.  I hadn’t been really impressed or turned off.  There are at least a couple more Vietnamese restaurants in Roseville so I’ll continue to give it a try and explore different dishes as I visit these, but I have to admit that I’m not super optimistic.  Pho Hang is a small/medium sized restaurant at the corner of Pleasant Grove and Highland Pointe (in the same shopping center as Chick Fil-A, Wal Mart and Sam’s Club) that obviously specializes in pho, a Vietnamese dish consisting of a hot broth with rice noodles and a selection of meats.

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My friends, Anne & Justin, joined me for dinner.  This was their first time.  We arrived at about 8PM on this Friday night.    Only a handful of tables were occupied.  An employee on the far side of the dining room saw us and motioned to a table for us to sit at.  Once seated, a server greeted us and passed out menus.  I decided I wanted to give pho another shot and given this place had pho in the name it seemed fitting.  I went with a combination that was recommended in an article I read earlier that day, Phở Tái Bò Viên, which is rare beef & beef meat ball with rice noodle in soup.  We took a long time goving over the menu.  Anne & Justin both had some questions about what was in certain things and Anne asked for a general overall recommendation.  Our server, who was incredibly nice and patient, had a lot of trouble answering that question in particular.  He really wanted to go down a path of questions to see what she was interested in, but since she was completely unfamiliar with Vietnamese food, she was simply looking for any random suggestion.  She asked this way, hoping it would help him pick something, “if you were ordering dinner right now, what would you get?”  That didn’t seem to help.  Eventually she chose Bún Gá Nưởng (Grilled chicken & vegetable on thin vermicelli) and left it at that.  Justin ordered a similar dish with deep fried chicken instead of grilled – Bún Gá Chiên Dòn (Deep fried chicken & vegetable on thin vermicelli).  We also got a couple orders of spring rolls, some vegetarian and some with pork & shrimp.

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For drinks we kept it simple.  Justin and I each had a Coke and Anne had a Heineken.  The coke arrived in a can with a glass of ice.  The can looked clean and was very cold so I drank directly from it.  Our spring rolls arrived in very little time.  They were light and fresh, and the peanut sauce was rich and delicious.  Soon a plate of garnishes for my pho arrived along with a small bowl of fish sauce.  I  can’t recall if I’ve ever tried fish sauce before.  I didn’t use it this night, but towards the end I dipped my fork in to give it a try.  It was a bit salty and had a distinctly familiar flavor which Justin identified as a kind of salty cheese cracker, which I decided was exactly what I was thinking.  It’s a very strange comparison, but at the moment it seemed to fit.  The garnishes included crunchy bean sprouts, thai basil, a slice of lime and a slice of what looked like a jalapeno, but may have easily been some other kind of pepper.

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Not long after finishing our rolls the entrees started to arrive.  Anne’s grilled chicken was first up, followed closely behind by my pho, and a couple minutes later Justin’s deep fried chicken was last to the table.  Justin seemed to really enjoy the chicken, though I felt like he was less interested in the rest of the bowl.  Anne enjoyed her grilled chicken and obviously liked the rest enough to take the rest of the large bowl to go.  I had a bite of the chicken and thought it was really good.  It was tender and very flavorful.  It seemed to have a light and sweet marinade on it.

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On to my pho, it arrived extremely hot.  The rare beef was already quickly cooking.  It was still a bit pink in spots but continued cooking as I started to eat.  After a short while it had achieved a uniform dull grey color.  The meatball(s) were cut up into large, bite-sized wedges.  I found these, as well as the rare beef slices, to be decent.  Neither were extremely flavorful on their own.  I found the broth and noodles to be the best part of the bowl  The broth had a very delicate and subtle flavor that I found hard to describe, but it was very good.  I put a small amount of been sprouts in for some crunch, and a bit of thai basil, which added a tiny sweetness.  About halfway through I added a small amount of sriracha sauce to see what it tasted like since I’ve never had it before and people seem to love it on everything.  I didn’t notice much of a difference and added more, but I think I went just a slight bit too far.  The broth now had a light red coloring to it after stirring it in and it had a heat that built over consecutive sips.  I thought the flavor was decent perhaps a little on the vinegar side, but the broth itself seemed to be good enough as is and, in hind sight, I don’t think it really needed anything else.

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We each ordered a dessert.  Justin picked the fried banana ice cream while Anne went with just fried ice cream.  I asked our server what the sweetened beans were all about, and he told me that they put the beans in a glass and top them with half & half milk and ice.  I thought I’d give it a shot.  They had three different colors to choose from, as well as a mix with all three, which is what I picked.  It came out in a smoothie glass with several distinct layers, a spoon and one of those really wide straws you usually see with bubble tea from places like Lollicup.  Through this I was able to get at the beans quickly.  They were a little on the sweet side, but not overly so.  I thought that a perfect mixture of the ice, half & half and beans made for a pretty good flavor, though the texture was very strange.  After a while there was little to no milk left and the beans that remained on their own didn’t do much for me.  I’m glad I tried it, but I don’t think that I would order one again.

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Anne’s fried ice cream was pretty good.  It was just vanilla but was pretty tasty.  Justin had a couple scoops of the same vanilla ice cream along with what almost looked like egg rolls.  They were the deep fried bananas.  About half of the rolls were banana and the other half was coconut.  I’m not too big on coconut and I don’t think Justin is either.  We thought these were ok but the coconut was overpowering.

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I’d say that this visit slightly improved my impressions of Vietnamese cuisine overall.  The spring rolls were fantastic, and I think I am starting to enjoy pho a little more.  I was also very happy with the service.  Though he had a lot of trouble recommending something, he seemed happy to answer the onslaught of questions and never seemed anything but patient and willing to help.  I would recommend Pho Hang as a place to try Vietnamese food out if you are new to it like myself.

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Responses

  1. I like my pho with all the basil and sprouts dumped in, with a little lime juice squeezed on top. The basil adds a certain lovely flavor to the delicate broth.
    With the grilled chicken and bun/vermicelli, I dump most of the vinegar into the noodles and add sriracha. yum.

    • Thanks for the tips, I think I’ll try some lime next time. After thinking about this for the last day I think I liked the pho more than I wrote. I want to eventually do something where I go back and revisit all my posts and see how I remember them now vs my initial impressions. I think it will be interesting.

  2. Are you familiar pho restaurants being into puns like “Pho King?” Pete might have told you about an unfortunate restaurant that was trying to play off of tic tac toe, but through perhaps a signage error ended up with a sign that read “Pho Tic Tac.”

    • Ha, I hadn’t heard that one. I’ve seen some good ones though, like phonominal

  3. Also “What the pho?”

  4. Phonominal! Nice.

  5. Oh I forgot to mention that Pho Tic Tac is in Seattle, which is probably why you haven’t seen it.


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