Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Eating Out A Phriday Night Pho Phreakout

I realize I'm pretty late to the show when it comes to finally trying pho.  It has come well recommended from just about every social circle I stumble through.  The restaurants have been popping up in ever increasing numbers and the dish is now seen on the menus of a few fancy pants eateries as well. 

Recently some good friends raved about Pho 75 #2 on McKinley and First, so that seemed the logical choice when the lovely lady expresses a want to go out.  Ok, maybe it seems like a sketchy scene to hit on a Friday night.  But in all honesty it was fairly mellow, with kids riding bikes.  The most frightening note of the evening was a homeless lady with the biggest sweet tooth I've ever seen.  Seriously, I've never seen someone give such a hard pitch to get their hands on some sweet bread at the local panderia.

So, my terrors put to bed, we stroll on into the 75.  Immediate upon walking in, I notice the total lack of partitions.  You don't realize how common they are in Western restaurants.  It gives the place a nice open feel that I didn't realize I had missed.  It's all pretty straightforward though.  The usual booths and longer dinner table style seating.

Service was quick and polite, having us seated almost immediately upon entering.  Their menu is nicely informative given my general lack of experience with the cuisine and some of the ingredients.  Sure, pho is a beef broth made from cracked beef bones simmered and seasoned for several hours which is then poured over rice noodles, varied veg and your meat.  Like shabu shabu, your beef is sliced then and added raw to the soup, allowing the heat of the broth to cook the meat.  Although I believe other ingredients like the beef tendon and tripe would likely have been pre-prepared and added to the soup. 

Yup I said tendon.  Being that I'm out to try new stuff, I like to hedge my bets and try one or two new items, rather than go whole hog.  So it was a toss up between the tendon and the tripe as my challenging buddy to the regular beef.  The waitress indicated that she loved the tendon, so tendon it is!  Aaaand it was probably a bad choice.  Yes, it's a collagen rich part of the animal and is supposed to be good for skin and hair, but it's got the texture of gummy bears made out of fat wrapped around unmelted cartilage.  It tasted fine, but the texture just hits my barf button. 

Seriously though, having one new ingredient I wasn't crazy about did nothing to take away from the awesome flavor of the soup.  Pho is one of those soups that comes with tons of condiments to fine tune the flavor to your liking.  But like any good human, I at least taste something before slathering on the sauce.  And the first taste loudly declared that the 75's pho is excellent all on it's own.  Beefy, savory with a nice blend of cilantro and ginger flavors.  This one is going to be high on my list of recipes to reverse engineer for personal use.

But, when in Rome, put more weird shit into your soup!  Or in this case there is Thai basil, lemon, mung bean sprout, hoisin sauce, sriracha, pickled and fresh jalapenos, fish sauce, shrimp paste and soy sauce.  I opted for some lemon, Thai basil, jalapenos and a little fish sauce.  Later I kicked in a little sriracha to up the heat to my preferred level.

All together it evolved from a great beef soup to the most wonderful beef soup I've ever had!  There just aren't enough complimentary things to say about the broth.  And add in a nice fat nest of al dente rice noodles and a light sprink of spring onion and cilantro and I know for sure where I'll be spending rainy days when I need a pick-me-up!

And the pho is so good I completely forgot about our appetizer and drinks!  The appetizer was their fried meatballs...which I almost don't want to mention.  If the meatballs themselves are made in-house, they have an amazing way to beat meat into pasty submission.  They were fairly rubbery and not incredibly full of taste.  The peanut sauce they come with is tasty enough to help you ignore the texture and the lightly pickled vegetables they come with certainly help the flavor. 

But my favorite discovery, second only to the pho would have to be the avocado milkshake with boba.  Once I saw it on the menu it immediately struck me as odd, but upon thinking about it, it makes some sense that a creamy tree fruit would play well blended with some milk and sugar.  And damn right it is!  The avocado flavor has the perfect level of prominence, it doesn't fully dominate your mouth with it's creamy greeny flavor, but it sort of weaves in and out the milk and vanilla flavors.  And of course, boba makes anything better.  Ironic that I like chewey tapioca gummy balls in my shake, but not beefy gummy balls in my soup.  But their shakes are off the hook.  The chai tea and watermelon varieties were well recieved by my dinner mates as well.

Overall the Pho 75 #2 experience was wonderful.  It's a delighfully casual room with decent, attentive service.  The food is excellent and cheap!  The only tip I'd offer to newbies would be to make sure to pick what size bowl you want.  The default size is a dwarven wading pool of soup.  A medium will meet most hearty appetites and certainly outstripped mine.  Also, you pay at the register.  I'm not sure how they match you up to your ticket, but by the time we had walked up, a totally different waitress knew our entire order and had our total.  I dig mystical efficiency!

But if you've been afraid of pho, defeat that fear!  Pho 75 #2 has a wonderfully informative menu that will ensure that you're eating exactly what you want to eat, in any number of combinations.  And they're good with special orders as well.  So put on your adventure pants and go out and discover some new cuisines!