For the past few weeks, I’ve written about new South Philly restaurants. New places are popping up all over town so as I wait for them to open their doors, Edward and I decided to visit an old friend.
Nam Phuong opened on Washington Avenue more than 10 years ago. A South Philly friend recommended it especially because we enjoy Vietnamese food. In many ways, it is the quintessential family restaurant. Portions are large and prices so moderate you won’t believe what you see on the menu. Keep in mind there are more than 300 items listed, but the waitstaff is there to guide you.
Nam Phuong is a brightly lit, open dining room with small crystal chandeliers, tables covered in white linen and a caddy of condiments at hand to enhance the dishes.
Edward and I sipped a martini ($5.50) and looked around the room. Several large Vietnamese families were tucking into big platters of beautifully displayed ingredients. We also noticed many diners were sipping large bowls of pho, which I usually reserve for a hearty lunch. I instinctively knew soup would fill me up.
I poured myself a hot cup of tea and looked forward to our appetizers. Two crisp spring rolls ($2.95) filled with minced pork, shrimp and vegetables arrived with a sweet and sour dipping sauce and sprigs of fragrant basil. A small mound of lettuce was included on the plate.
Quite often summer rolls can be quite bland, but Nam Phuong’s ($3) were uncommonly good. There was a choice of shrimp and pork or shrimp and chicken. We went for the former because the thin slices of chargrilled pork complemented the delicate taste of the shrimp. Perfectly cooked vermicelli was mixed with the pork, shrimp and a hint of basil then wrapped in cool rice-paper wrappers. The peanut dipping sauce was about as fine as I have sampled. The cooks hit the texture of the sauce as it was neither too thin nor too viscous.
The huge platter that the families were enjoying, turned out to be Ba Vi ($23.95). It might’ve been listed for two people, but looked like it could have served a small army.
“If you order this dish, you don’t need to order anything else,” our served advised.
Since we enjoyed our appetizers, he recommended a smaller version of this dish. Small? For just $9.95, Edward and I could not believe the portion of the Tom Thit Nuong when it arrived at the table.
One side of a large round platter was lined with crisp lettuce leaves, sprigs of mint and basil, along with cool English cucumber slices and thinly sliced, slightly pickled carrots and daikon radish. A bed of vermicelli sat on the other side topped with more than a dozen medium chargrilled, beautifully seasoned shrimp and slices of grilled pork. A portioned receptacle filled with warm water was on one side with round rice paper wraps on the other.
We had fun dipping the round wrapper into the warm water, which softens it so it is ready to be stuffed. Simply place the ingredients inside, wrap it up like an Asian blintze and top with any condiment of choice, such as the peanut sauce, which was splendid, or a choice of hot sauces from the caddy.
Our server also recommended a crispy egg noodle dish ($9.95), which was formed into a nest. It was brimming with sautéed shrimp, scallops, crabmeat, squid and mixed vegetables, including straw mushrooms, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, carrots, napa cabbage and Chinese broccoli, bathed in a light savory sauce. There were a number of ingredients included here but I found each one was cooked just right. None of the fish were mushy, the noodles stayed crisp and the variety of vegetables added color, texture and flavor.
Service is so quick, you might wish to order a dish or two, enjoy them and order more. This is exactly what Edward and I did while enjoying dinner with an old friend.
Three tips of the toque to Nam Phuong.
1100 Washington Ave.
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