Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pho Thanh My – A promising beginning

302 North Shackleford Road (across from Kroger)
Little Rock

Two visits now to Pho Thanh My (fuh-tan-mee), and two pretty good experiences.

Evidently, pho (pronounced “fuh”) is a popular, every day, street food in Viet Nam, and basically consists of boiling water poured over rice noodles and some type of meat. Typical garnishes include lime, basil leaves, bean sprouts, a hot pepper of some type (here, jalapeno) and a form of cilantro leaf. I discovered pho at the first iteration of VanLang, and liked it. If you want to read an exhaustive description of pho, I suggest you go to Wikipedia.

Each time I’ve visited PTM, the parking lot has been crowded, and lots of Asians have been happily slurping up bowls of pho inside. A good sign. The service is still a bit slow sometimes, but earnest in their desire to please. I can forgive a lot of sins if someone is actually trying to do well, and they seem to be at PTM.

During a visit today, my friend and I tried the deluxe version of pho – the pho dac biet (fuh dak bay). The first time I went there, I asked the waitress what the Vietnamese ordered when they came in. She rolled her eyes and said, “They don’t bother looking at the menu. They just say, ‘Give me the pho special.’” OK, so that’s what we did today.

It was good, but sort of like a Supreme Pizza – the pho dac biet comes with all the toppings, and sometimes that’s good and sometimes it’s a little much. It was the latter for my tastes. Beef. Meat balls. Soft tendons. Tripe. And a few globs of chicken fat, just in case. For me, the simpler versions with one or two toppings have a purer, less diffuse flavor. But you might be a Supreme pizza person. If so, give the pho dac biet a try.

The portions are enormous. My friend got a to-go container, and she’ll have plenty of pho for a complete second meal. So, be forewarned.

We also ordered the Goi Cuon (spring rolls), and they were …. OK. Not as good as those at the Saigon Grill in Cabot. Lots of lettuce and a few shrimp rolled in cool rice paper, and large -- Bret Favre-photo-size (I apologize. I took a look at the photos he sent to the pneumatic NY Jets girl, and, paraphrasing Circa Bellum, “There are things that, once you see, you just can’t un-see them.” How unfortunately true.) I asked about that variation with the sausage (see, I can’t help it) in the spring roll along with the shrimp, and our waiter said that was a regional variation that they didn’t do there. I liked the Saigon Grill spring rolls better. In both cases, they’re served with peanut sauce.

On my first visit, I tried the Mi Thap Cam, an egg noodle soup with pork, shrimp, squid, crab meat and quail eggs. I suppose I thought it would be more like a spicy Thai soup (Tome Yum Goong or Tom Yam Kung, I’ve seen both spellings) that I love. It wasn’t. However, it was good. Mild and fragrant with subtle flavors.

So, the food seems to be fresh, tasty and the service, while sometimes slow, is trying to do well. And, the pho portions are quite large – you can easily get two meals out of one order.

Now, the fly-in-the-soup, so to speak. Today, our tab for two bowls of pho dac biet, an order of spring rolls, hot tea and ice tea weighed in at $26.72 before tip. Hmm. Something about that is not sitting well with me. Maybe genetics are kicking in and I’m becoming my old man (“Take care of the nickels and dimes, and the dollars will take care of themselves.”), but that seems just a tad high to me for, essentially, two bowls of soup, two spring rolls that are mostly lettuce, and two teas. Maybe it doesn’t to you.

Give Pho Thanh My a try. Since VanLang went to Korean ownership, the Vietnamese servings there have suffered a bit. So, this is one of the few places in the area now to get authentic Vietnamese food. It would be nice for it to survive and provide more Asian eating choices. Wish VanLang would go to an all-Korean menu, but that’s another story.

UPDATE February 23, 2011:

Considering the demise of Saigon Grill in Cabot, it's comforting to know that there is a real, authentic, Viet Namese restaurant in central Arkansas. Comforting, because I find noodle soup to be a comfort food. And, Pho Thanh My is very comforting indeed.

I didn't actually try the pho today, though what I saw looked good. I tried, instead, the lemon grass beef vermicelli. And found the portions and flavors both to be abundant. With just the supplied nuoc cham, it needed no doctoring whatsoever. Despite the enormous size of the bowl of noodles and beef before me, I still managed to wolf down two fried egg rolls and pronounced them the best I've ever had.

So, yeah, Joe Bob is right. Go!

Bob Joe Circabellum


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