Hot and wet
Stormy days bring to mind a variety of comfort foods. Personally, I lean toward savory, broth-based soups as bolster against inclement weather. Thus, on a rainy afternoon, my wife, a friend and I found ourselves at the strip mall gem that is Silver Chopsticks.
For starters I ordered goi cuon (two Vietnamese spring rolls cut in half, $4.95) and salt and pepper calamari ($7.25). The rolls were served with room temperature peanut sauce spiked with chopped peanut and julienned carrot. The overall flavors of vegetable, noodle, herb and shrimp were present but the pork was a bit dry. Not terrible, but they could definitely use improvement.
I’ve eaten my share of fried squid, but this presentation was new to me. Lightly fried in tempura, the squid appeared to be mantle cuts similar to those used for “calamari fries,” yet with nubby bits that reminded me of tentacles. Having previously enjoyed suckered appendages, I’m fairly certain these weren’t squid legs, but I think they were clipped to evoke this notion. Interesting. Served on a bed of shredded cabbage and sliced scallion they were a little chewy, yet pretty tasty despite lacking much “salt and pepper” flavor. A light sweet and sour sauce—provided for our friend’s egg roll—was delivered just before the starters, so we used it on the seafood to good effect.
My buddy and my wife each ordered from the menu of Chinese lunch specials, curry chicken with egg roll and steamed rice being his choice ($6.95). The egg roll was gone before I could beg a nibble, but he reported, “It was an egg roll.” I think I enjoyed the flavor of the curry sauce more than he did. I found it to be fairly creamy with just enough spice, and possessing more of a Thai than Chinese character.
My wife declared her beef broccoli to be “the best I’ve ever had.” It’s entirely possible, since the broccoli was perfectly stir-fried with tender, well-seasoned meat. Nothing at all like the spongy, low-rent beef one often receives in this dish. Her choice of pork fried rice was only notable for not being overcooked or greasy—not a star item but just fine as support for the entrée. Hot and sour soup rounded out her lunch special ($7.25). We agreed the soup was pretty good, though it could have used a bit more vinegar tang.
As noted, I was in search of a big bowl of soup to counter the storm. I goofed by ordering pho tai nan (vermicelli noodle soup with rare steak and well done flank, $6.95) rather than my usual pho dac biet (same thing, but with the addition of tendon, tripe, and meatball). Some may say, “Ewww,” but I really missed the tendon and tripe. The soup was served at the perfect temperature—just below scalding—with the usual plate of fresh Thai basil, jalapeño slices, bean sprouts and wedge of lime.
The word “pho” refers to the noodles, but this style of soup is best judged by the flavors of its broth. Some possess a strong, single flavor (too much ginger, onion, etc.), while others are so weak they’re akin to leftover vegetable rinse. The best pho broths combine an involved preparation of herbs, spices, vegetables and meat stock simmered for hours, then combined with noodles, meats and other ingredients for each individual order of soup. This particular broth was more delicate than some but had a very satisfying finish. I added items from the side plate to complement the broth and otherwise left it alone; no sauces necessary. It was delicious and exactly what I was after.