Most of us are familiar enough with Vietnamese cuisine by now that when the temperatures plunge our thoughts can easily turn to pho, the country’s famous, hearty noodle soup.
We treated ourselves to hot soup (and more) on Tuesday night at Pho Thien An. This small restaurant is on Rector Street, behind North Star Mall. The menu is large, however, and offers Chinese dishes as well.
But it was noodle soup we wanted. When the steamy Pho Tai Nam Gau (noodle soup with sliced, medium-cooked flank and brisket) arrived, the steaming broth warmed us immediately with its robust scent of beef infused with light, sweet spices. The serving of tender noodles was generous and we dipped right in.
If you’re not familiar with pho, it’s just as simple as I’ve described it, but it comes with a plate piled high with fresh garnishes of deep herbs and bean sprouts, and condiments on the side. Pho Thien An’ s pho is worth stopping in for. The list of noodle soup is lengthy, and includes combinations of various meats and meatballs, and chicken, as well as one with vegetables and another without meat.
Pho was, to me, the main event on a shivery evening. But my companion might differ with my focus. His attention was caught by two favorite foods: clams and pork. Not in the same dish. We first tried the grilled pork meat balls, as an appetizer. These were as described — decidedly appetizing — with a lightly crunchy exterior, juicy centers and a tasty little garnish of chopped peanuts and slivered green onions. A dab of the table Sriracha sauce gave them a boost.
My friend’s generous order of small clams, steamed in their shells and bathed in a deeply flavorful sate sauce, were studded with red and green pepper cut in tiny dice and plenty of peppery fresh basil. He took half of them home, though, so that he could dig into another house specialty, a mega pork platter. I found the shreds of tender, steamed rice paper at the base of the dish as inviting as all that pork. But, the slices of pale sausage, spicy grilled bits of pork, and sliced pork ham were a delicious discovery, especially with some of the crunch, browned garlic slices on the side.
I took an order of bún home with me to share with my husband. There are more than a half-dozen varieties of this Vietnamese comfort food on the menu. On mine, the warm vermicelli noodles on lettuce greens were topped with slivers of pork and sliced spring roll. Our waiter encouraged us to pour over as much fish sauce, with shredded carrots, as we liked, too. This is a standard on even limited Vietnamese menus, and while it was good it was not nearly as fascinating as some of the other dishes.
While we explored a couple of these more unusual dishes on Pho Thien An’s menu, there was much on this menu to go back for. Our friendly waiter was effusive about the attractions of the broken-steamed rice dishes. We were tempted by such entrées as the stir-fried baby clams with lemon grass and crunchy rice paper, and hot pot offerings, including Lau De, or Lamb Hot Island Pot, looked promising.
Ending a meal at Pho Thien An is pretty much limited to having some creamy coffee or fruit smoothie/bubble drinks. But we’ll save those for one of our return visits.
Pho Thien An
(behind North Star Mall)
Open daily for lunch and dinner
(Fax) (210) 348-8157