Archive | March 25th, 2011

House of Pho Built on a Solid Foundation

House of Pho Built on a Solid Foundation

Spring rolls

Blink while you’re driving through the Medical Center and you may miss the sign for House of Pho. The restaurant itself doesn’t face Louis Pasteur Drive, though that’s its address; it’s situated off to the side, beyond a chain sandwich shop in a strip center where music blares out to the parking lot in a way that is anything but inviting.

But step inside the tiny restaurant and you’ll feel transported. The setting is tranquil with an almost Zen-like sense of serenity. Moe Lazri of Fig Tree Restaurant and Little Rhein Steakhouse designed the interior with clean lines that practically gleamed in the afternoon sun, comfortable chairs and a few spare touches, including a Mondrian-influenced mirror.

Beautiful as the place is, it’s the food that will make you a true fan. The menu isn’t terribly extensive, and many of the dishes overlap. Do you want the lemongrass-charred pork chop with rice or rice noodles? A few vegetarian dishes made with tofu are balanced by the beef broths, and a trio of Lenten seafood specials have been tacked to the wall. Nothing is so exotic as to scare newcomers to Vietnamese food, and the descriptions of each dish had us wanting to try most everything available.

Chicken salad

A recent lunch started with an artfully arrayed serving of spring rolls. These were not the greasy little bite-sized pieces you find all-too-often at Vietnamese places around town, but seriously hot treats filled with mushrooms, cabbage and carrots among another wonderful ingredients.

On the side were fresh lettuce leaves to wrap them with, or toppings such as  cilantro and mint and a drop or two of fish sauce. I would have liked a little more of the herbs, especially the cilantro, but the dish certainly made us hungry for more.

It was quickly followed by a bold chicken salad with plenty of carrot shavings, peanuts and daikon mixed with strips of moist chicken breast. Shallots fried until crisp and sprinkled over the top added a contrasting texture as well as a sweet-salty flavor. Around the side were rice crisps in case you wanted to pile the salad on for an Asian taco.

Lemongrass-charred pork chop over noodles

House of Pho knows its carrots. They were used to great advantage in several preparations, as I’ve mentioned, including the spring rolls, the fish sauce and the chicken  salad. But it was on top of a bun bowl that they really shone. The shredded bits in this case had been soaked in rice vinegar and a touch of sugar to make a tangy salad that worked well with the lemongrass-charred boneless pork chop, rice noodles, bean sprouts, lettuce and cucumber.

No visit to a place called House of Pho would be complete without a bowl of pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup. The version we sampled featured well-done brisket floating in broth with red onions and cilantro leaves on top. The intoxicating aroma of cinnamon mingled with beef reached us before the bowls hit the table.  The silky noodles were hidden under the thin slices of meat, and the broth had an earthy sweetness that was soon sparked to new life by the addition of strands of fresh basil, mint and a little hot sauce. What comfort!

Beef brisket pho

Check out the drink case closely before making your decision. There’s fresh lemonade on the bar next to the expected iced tea and bottled coconut water in addition to the usual soda suspects.

The medical center seems to have discovered this little gem, which is only open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday. Now, it’s your turn.

House of Pho
7302 Louis Pasteur Drive
Lunch and dinner Monday-Friday

Posted in Featured, Restaurants1 Comment

Griffin to Go: Recipes for a Successful Family Film

Griffin to Go: Recipes for a Successful Family Film

It’s not every day you discover a DVD with recipes in the case. Yet that’s what happened when I checked out 步いても步いても (“Still Walking”) from the San Antonio Public Library.

This 2008 film from Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda was recently released by the Criterion Collection, known for its meticulous discs with plenty of extras and often lavish booklets filled with essays on the film. This one is no different, except that several pages of recipes have replaced one of the essays.

That’s great news, because after watching the film, I was ready to eat.

Kore-eda’s film is taken partially from his memories of his parents. Apparently, his mother was an excellent cook, known for her sautéed daikon radish and her corn fritters among other delicacies. At the beginning of the story, we see the mother figure working hard in the kitchen as she prepares an elaborate feast.

It is the anniversary of the death of one son and another son is visiting for the first time in a year. He’s bringing with him his new wife and stepson. Over the course of a 24-hour period, we learn a lot about these people, including some secrets that they would probably prefer remain hidden.

A great cook isn’t necessarily a great person, just human. The same is true of a great doctor and the rest of the family, anyone’s family. I won’t spoil the rest of this touching drama, except to advise any interested viewers to check out the extras after watching the film.

In the making-of documentary, we see the actors learn how to make one of the dishes in the film, Corn Tempura, which was Kore-eda’s favorite dish when he was a child. We also see the director bite into one of the large fritters on the set and comment that the dish is even better with soy sauce, which is not mentioned in the recipe but sounds like a great addition.

Whether you make the dishes before or after “Still Walking,” be prepared: You will be hungry after watching all that cooking.

Kinpira Daikon

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium daikon, cut into thin strips with a knife or peeler
Leaves from 1 or 2 daikons, cut into bite-sized pieces or arugula leaves
2 to 3 medium carrots, cut into thin strips with a knife or peeler
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
Red pepper flakes

Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan and cook the daikon, daikon leaves and carrots until soft. Add the sugar and soy sauce, and continue cooking until the liquid has been absorbed. Finish by pouring the sesame oil on top. Serve in a bowl and sprinkle with red pepper flakes.

Makes 4 servings.

From Hirokazu Kore-eda/”Still Walking”

Corn Tempura

Frying oil
1/2 cup flour, plus more for dredging
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup water
Kernels from 2 ears of corn
Sesame oil

Heat frying oil to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the 1/2 cup of flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. In a larger bowl, combine the egg yolk and water. Add the flour mixture to the yolk mixture and combine to form a batter. Dredge the corn kernels in flour and then stir them into the batter with a slotted spoon and form into small patties, incorporating some sesame oil with your hands. Fry until golden brown.

Makes 4 servings.

From Hirokazu Kore-eda/”Still Walking”

Pork Belly Kakuni

6 cups water
1 1/2 pounds pork belly
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
2 scallions, green portion only, thinly sliced
1 (3-inch) piece ginger, sliced
6 to 7 tablespoons sugar, divided use
5 tablespoons soy sauce1/4 cup sake
3 tablespoons mirin
1 bunch komatsuna or spinach
4 hard-cooked eggs, halved lengthwise
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water

Bring the 6 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Season the pork belly with salt and pepper. Add to boiling water with the scallions and ginger. Simmer about 90 minutes, then let cool. Remove the pork belly from the liquid and cut into 1-inch pieces; return to liquid. Add 2 tablespoons of the sugar, the soy sauce, the sake and the mirin, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer gently for 90 minutes, occasionally skimming excess fat from the surface.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, blanch the komatsuna, drain and cut into strips. (Boil, if using spinach to remove the oxalic acid.)

Remove the pork belly from the liquid; set aside. Add the egg halves to the broth and continue to simmer until broth thickens, adding sugar to taste.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and cold water until the cornstarch dissolves.

Remove the eggs from the broth; set aside. Add the cornstarch mixture to the broth, one spoonful at a time, cooking over low heat, until broth is desired thickness. Remove from heat. Put the komatsuna, pork belly and eggs in a serving bowl. Ladle the broth over the top and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

From Hirokazu Kore-eda/”Still Walking”

Posted in Blogs, Griffin to Go2 Comments