On the second day of Chinese New Year, I switched on PBS and watched Martha Stewart prepare pho. She filled a big stockpot with marrow bones, ox tails, fatty brisket, spices and stock and allowed it to simmer for several hours. While the soup simmered, she explained the various vegetables that are a must with pho. Bean sprouts, sliced jalapeño peppers, mint, basil and lime wedges are offered on a separate plate so guests can help themselves.
Pho is street food in Vietnam. There is a myriad of ingredients that can go into the pot. Every chef and housewife have their own versions.
Stewart’s creation made me hungry for pho. My favorite Vietnamese restaurants are Le Viet and my old friend Nam Phuong. In fact, we no longer go to Chinatown on Christmas Day. We go to Nam Phuong. I recalled seeing a Vietnamese restaurant on Columbus Boulevard. After doing some culinary sleuthing on the Internet, I found Pho Saigon.
Edward and I were greeted with a smile and were shown to a table by the window. The large, airy restaurant is a brightly lit room, and the servers answer questions with ease. Pho Saigon was filled to capacity with a marvelous cross-section of humanity: families with children; dozens of twenty-somethings; couples; and four women who brought a bottle of wine. It is BYOB.
Unlike Le Viet and Nam Phuong, Pho Saigon is truly a pho restaurant. One will not find grilled beef or pork dishes or fish although there are a few shrimp items on the menu. What one will find is tasty food at downright moderate prices.
Our server brought us a pot of hot tea and made some suggestions. Edward and I wanted to sample some cool rolls rather than spring rolls.
We began dinner with summer rolls with shrimp and pork ($3.75), barbecued pork rolls ($4) and grilled ground pork rolls ($4).
I have sampled summer rolls in numerous Vietnamese restaurants. Pho Saigon’s were larger than usual and quite plump. They were filled with vermicelli, shrimp, a basil leaf and seasoned pork that played off well with the other ingredients. I never tried the other rolls until now. We enjoyed the slightly smoky flavor or the barbecued pork in one and the grilled ground pork in the other. Dishes of peanut sauce with chopped peanuts and a dish of fish sauce came with our appetizers. Two rolls come with each order.
Noodles soups and pho are the stars of the menu although there are bun or rice vermicelli dishes as well. The soups are available in small or large sizes, which is one fine idea. I noticed many women and kids enjoying the small versions.
Edward ordered rice noodle soup with shrimp and pork ($7.50 small, $8.50 large) while I finally decided on the pho with fat brisket and rare steak ($6.90) small, $7.90 large.)
Our server brought us a platter of bean sprouts, sliced green jalapeño peppers, lime wedges, fresh mint, basil and purple Thai basil. I took one look at the small version and could not believe it was deemed small. It was a meal in a bowl.
We helped ourselves to Asian soup spoons from the condiments container and began to slurp noodles and hearty soup. Edward had never tried rice noodles before, and he immediately liked the texture. The broth was lighter than the one used to make beef pho. Tender pork slices floated in the bowl along with small shrimp, which took on a nice slightly acid flavor when a good squeeze of lime was added to the bowl.
My pho was prepared with egg noodles and a hearty beef stock. The brisket was fatty, indeed, just like I prefer it. Brisket is a tough cut of beef, and must simmer for a long time. Whoever is in the kitchen at Pho Saigon knows how to cook brisket. I suspect the rare steak, which was sliced thin for easy enjoyment, was eye round, and it too was tender. I added everything but the hot peppers to my supper.
Pho Saigon is a family restaurant where everyone can enjoy tasty nutritious food at really moderate prices. I don’t know how much it would run a family of four to eat burgers and fries at a fast food restaurant. What I do know is a family can have lunch or dinner at Pho Saigon for less money.
I could eat here once a week. Now I want to try their rice vermicelli dishes.
Three tips of the toque to Pho Saigon.
1100 S. Columbus Blvd.
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