Confession: 2010 is shaping up to be Year of the Pho. I’m having this crazy passionate love affair with Vietnamese food, and I cannot seem to get enough. (Though you’ll notice that I’ve retired “Pho Shizzle” as a tagline. At least for now.)
I’ve seen Yelp haters describe western Massachusetts and north-central Connecticut as culturally bereft. Well…okay. But as ethnic cuisines become more mainstream, even suburban Longmeadow boasts two notable sushi restaurants. And up in Springfield, you can find three Vietnamese eateries within a three-block radius.
A friend and I checked out Vinh Chau in January. Good stuff. And in the interest of trying new things, Rob and I checked out its across-the-street neighbor, Pho Saigon, on Friday night.(Bamboo House, a Vietnamese/Szechuan restaurant, is within shouting distance.)
Of the Springfield trifecta, Pho Saigon has the most traditional “restaurant” atmosphere. It’s warm, inviting and stylish. I was surprised to see a Montepulciano on the otherwise-predictable wine list and had to get myself a glass. Rob enjoyed the #33 Vietnamese beer, which had the weight of a very light beer without sacrificing lots of taste.
Fresh spring rolls are a must for me, and when the plate came to the table, I was happy to see the shrimp nearly bursting out of the rice paper. But the rolls also included unseasoned chicken, and the meat’s blandness dominated the taste. I really liked the tangy peanut dipping sauce, however – love when there’s plenty of crushed peanuts.
But hold on, the appetizer course didn’t end there. We lost our minds over the shrimp on sugarcane skewers. The shrimp was ground, fried and wrapped around short sticks of sweet, fibrous cane. It was hot, juicy and succulent, enhanced even more by our own little blend of sriracha and another condiment that was like a thick soy sauce. (Still learning about all the accoutrements.)
We weren’t feeling particularly daring, nor did it seem like a night for pho. So we both chose bun dishes – mine with grilled shrimp, pork and egg roll, Rob with pork and pork meatballs. Every bowl of bun I’ve ever had has been just that – a large bowl of rice noodles topped with lettuce, sprouts, carrots, herbs and meat. Mine looked legit, even if the meat portions looked a little skimpy.
But Rob’s came on a plate, with a small amount of noodles and an overflowing bowl of pork. I’ve seen him house enough pasta to feed a team of marathon runners, so I knew it wouldn’t be enough for him. It got to the point where we were sharing meat and noodles, trying to shore up each other’s portions.
Verdict on the meats: The grilled pork was tasty, with a good smoky flavor, but unfortunately kind of greasy. The one grilled shrimp in my dish (one!) was just shy of rubbery. But the fried egg roll was spectacular, and the pork meatballs were luscious.
We skipped dessert, though our table was decorated with suggestive pictures of lemon mousse and caramel-topped flan. Excellent marketing strategy, though it didn’t work on us.
The service was very friendly and welcoming – the kind of place where they treat you like a regular from the minute you sit down for your first meal. Also friendly – the bill. We racked up a whopping $42 for our tab of three drinks, two appetizers and two entrees. I still can’t get over how wallet-friendly Vietnamese cuisine can be.
User reviews rave about this restaurant’s pho selections. We’ll be back to try that, for sure, along with Pho Saigon’s house specialties like hot pot and sizzling catfish.
Pho Saigon, 398 Dickinson Street, Springfield, MA (413) 781-4488