I haven’t been eating my way up and down Avenue U as quickly as I originally intended, but fear not: Eric is on board, and we have a plan. Last Friday, we kicked off our Memorial Day weekend with a ride on the F train and an exploratory, menu-reading stroll that led us to one of two Vietnamese restaurants on the avenue.
I have a soft spot for hole-in-the-wall type places, and since I’m not a restaurant reviewer, I have the luxury of keeping these food posts positive. In that spirit, here are things I liked about Pho Vietnam:
- It’s definitely a hole-in-the-wall type place.
- It maintains an especially nice Buddhist shrine at its entrance, featuring not just the usual oranges, but cups of tea and and dishes of candy.
- The front register is decked out with pretty colored lights.
- The encyclopedic menu is well-illustrated with helpful (if not always 100% accurate) photographs.
- The advertising poster on the wall uses a palm-fringed beach at sunset (top left) and a quaint, snowy village (top right), along with the slogan, “Dissimilar season same good mood” to highlight the versatility of bubble milk tea.
You may notice that food does not appear on this list. There’s a reason for that. When an earlier lunchtime foray yielded a disappointing bánh mì, I shrugged it off and focused on the dinner menu. They have Vietnamese pancakes! And interesting-sounding clay pot casserole dishes! Must try!
And so we did. The bánh xèo (Vietnamese pancake) was crispy but bland, overstuffed with bean sprouts at the expense of more interesting fillings, served with the bare minimum of lettuce for wrapping and a grudging handful of mint leaves. When I’ve had this dish elsewhere, it practically led to fisticuffs as we all tried to eat more than our share. Here, we dutifully plowed through it.
As for the casserole – the wood-handled earthenware dish gets a big thumbs up, but when the lid was removed to reveal the “caramel pork” inside, the aroma wasn’t of burnt sugar, or fish sauce or lemongrass or ginger or star anise or even garlic (I wasn’t sure what to expect, but assumed some or all of those things would enter into the mix). It was a familiar aroma, evoking memories of my decidedly un-Vietnamese Toledo childhood.
It smelled exactly like Lipton onion soup mix, the secret ingredient in my mother’s pot roast.
And that’s exactly what it tasted like, too. Salt, dehydrated onion, more salt. It wasn’t bad – my mother’s pot roast was always a favorite – but it wasn’t what I’d come for.
To be completely fair, Eric and I were guilty of inept ordering. Neither of us got the pho (I was hoping he would, but if he wanted shrimp with scallions and ginger, what could I do?), even though that’s what everyone else in the place was tucking into big bowls of and looking very happy with. When a restaurant offers 25 different varieties of pho, and even includes “pho” in its freaking name, that’s probably what you should get.
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