Posted by: Sean Carter | August 3, 2013

#148: Pho Vietnam Noodle Restaurant (CLOSED)

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For lunch today I visited one of the last Vietnamese restaurants on my list, Pho Vietnam Noodle Restaurant.  I’ve mentioned before that Vietnamese cuisine has been one of the more difficult ones for me to get into.  A combination of knowing next to nothing about Vietnamese food and ordering blindly from dense menus left me unsure and wondering if it’s really all it’s cracked up to be.  My Pho Hang experience got me a little closer, but I think I’m finally in now.

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Pho Vietnam Noodle Restaurant is located next door to Khobkoon Thai Cuisine in Woodcreek Plaza, on the corner of Foothills and Pleasant Grove.  I arrived just before noon.  There was a couple finishing up lunch when I walked in, and someone was in and out to pickup a phone order towards the end of my stay.  Other than that I had the place to myself.  I was greeted immediately by the owner and his son (an assumption on both) and was led over to a table roughly in the middle of the good sized dining room.  They definitely have the larger of the two spaces in this building.  Khobkoon is pretty tiny in comparison.  The space is open and is nicely decorated with some plants, artwork on the walls and a curtain that hides restroom doorway with a little style.  Behind me was a large HDTV, which the owner offered to turn on for me at one point.  There was some Kenny G-esque music lightly playing, and I swear it was on repeat the entire time.  I was handed a menu (scanned PDF) and left to look it over for a few minutes.

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I knew I would be ordering a bowl of pho, and I also wanted to try an appetizer.  I was considering spring rolls, egg rolls or a crepe, which I spotted a picture of while looking for information on this place before heading out.  I suspect the spring rolls would be great, as they have been everywhere so far, and egg rolls could be good but I was really curious about the crepe (Vietnamese crepe with pork & shrimp)[$5.99] so I picked that.  For my pho I kept it simple this time and chose a small with rare steak (#14, served with beansprouts, lime, basil and jalapenos)[$5.95].  Within a couple minutes I had the little plate of pho fixings already brought out.  I could hear the crepe sizzling away in the kitchen.  While I was waiting the owner came out and asked if I have ever had a crepe before, to which I replied “not a Vietnamese crepe.”  He explained that there would be a little bowl of sauce for dipping and it would come with veggies on the side.  He was extremely nice and seemed eager to explain about the food here and there throughout my visit which was much appreciated.

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About 10 minutes after I had ordered, the crepe was delivered.  It was much different than crepes as I know them.  It was very crisp and much more solid in it’s form than the more common French ones.  I was easily able to lift the top portion up with just the corner of my fork to reveal everything inside, which consisted mainly of beansprouts, some shrimp and green onions.  I didn’t see any pork, but I think it was underneath the bean sprouts.  Along side it was a big pile of mustard leaves with cilantro, cucumbers and (I think) onions and carrots.  I didn’t taste them individually to confirm, but that’s what they looked like and the consistency was about right.  I was leary of the sauce at first since whenever I see sauces that look like it, it’s often a fish sauce or something like it and is super salty, overpowering, and just not my cup of tea in general.  I gave this a cautious sniff.  While I wasn’t knocked off my chair, it did seem to smell salty to me.  I first tried a bite of the crepe on it’s own.  No veggies, no sauce.  Texture-wise I really enjoyed it, but it was fairly bland.  I carefully dipped a corner of a bite into the sauce and gave it a try.  I was surprised that it was very mild.  It did add a touch of salty flavor, but also sweet, and it was not spicy.  I ended up liking it a lot and used probably half of the little cup. From a little online research, I found that this sauce is made from fermented soy beans.  After these first test bites I dug in, stuffing the crepe with most of the sides.  It was wonderfully crisp, both the crepe itself and the mustard leaves.  The beansprouts added additional crunch.  The shrimp were few, but tasty.  I didn’t really taste any pork.  I thought it was really good once I got all in with the sides.  It was a great, light starter, though probably big enough to easily share.

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About 4 minutes into my crepe the pho arrived.  Despite being a small, it was a good sized bowl filled to the top with hot, steaming broth.  Just under the surface I could see a pile of the thin white noodles and some slices of steak.  Floating at the surface were sliced green onions.  The bowl was steaming a lot when it first came.  I focused on the crepe and let it cool off a bit.  Finished with that, I pulled the big bowl forward and got started.  Again, my first bites were of the bowl without any extras.  I loved it.  It was subtle and delicious, and smelled fantastic.  The steak had been fully cooked to a greyish brown color.  I think I might order this without any meat next time.  Each time I’ve found the beef to be ok.  The noodles were super slippery.  My mediocre chopstick skills notwithstanding, I was able to get a bite’s worth piled onto my spoon with some broth in it relatively easily.  Eventually I started adding some of the garnishes.  I dumped most of the bean sprouts in, ripped up one of the basil leaves, and squeezed in the little wedge of lime.  The bean sprouts added their crunch to the bowl and the little lime went a long way.  Finally, I decided to try out the dark sauce (which I later learned, from the owner, was hoisen) in the Siracha container.  The very small amount I added made a big change.  At first I kind of regretted adding it.  A rich, sweet soy saucy kinda flavor took over the bowl.  After a few bites I decided I actually liked it a lot though.  I ended up sipping all the remaining broth from the bowl after finishing off the noodles and beef.

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I left feeling very satisfied and full from this good sized yet fairly light meal.  I thought the price was great. In addition, I also left already looking forward to my next bowl of pho.  I’ve even started looking at where I can go for lunch in Rancho (if you have a favorite out there, let me know!).  The very friendly service and tips provided by the owner were the best I’ve had in Roseville.  If you’re new to the cuisine like myself, I highly recommend this restaurant as he really makes you feel comfortable to ask about anything, know what you’re getting and how to best enjoy it.

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