Pho your consideration

Viet Pho's pork banh mi sandwich is good-looking.

Viet Pho's pork banh mi sandwich is good-looking.

Photo/Allison Young

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When you discover a new-to-you food that really excites the palate, or perhaps punches your comfort food buttons, you’re likely to compare later encounters to your earliest experience. Variations on preparation and ingredients between kitchens keep things interesting, but you’ll still have that baseline set of expectations. With this in mind, my wife and I had a mixed experience at Viet Pho.

The spring roll my wife and I shared was served in two pieces, tightly bound in plastic wrap ($3.50). Though I realize they’re prepared in advance, I’ve never had one served this way even as take-out. The plastic was probably left on because the rice paper was very thin in spots, a challenge to keep together while eating. The thick peanut sauce was served cold, topped with at least a couple tablespoons of chopped peanut. The pork was a bit tough but the noodles, veggies, herbs and shrimp were plentiful and tasty.

The appetizer menu includes a couple of cabbage salads, something we haven’t seen or tried in the past. We split a chicken cabbage salad ($6.95), a healthy serving of finely-sliced cabbage topped with thin strips of chicken breast, Thai basil and chopped peanut. The dressing was very good, a savory combination of flavors pulled together by the unmistakeable pungence of fish sauce. My wife and I agreed we’d return just for that salad. I’d really like to try the shrimp and pork version.

Completing the starters, a steamed dim sum combo featuring a sweet pork bun in the middle of the plate surrounded by eight dumplings; four pork, four shrimp ($6.50). All three items looked very similar to their Chinese counterparts, and the bun was pretty much akin to its northern cousin. The dumplings had a very loose consistency, unlike the firmer texture of siu mai in Chinese dim sum. The shrimp balls were OK on flavor, but I can’t say I cared much for the pork. For lack of a better description, they just didn’t wow me.

Most soups on the menu are available in small or large servings. My wife ordered a small won ton soup with rice vermicelli noodles ($7.95), also available with egg noodles. The won ton were very soft, likely steamed rather than fried. My wife really liked them and said this is now her favorite won ton soup in town. I prefer fried won tons in the soup, but agreed the flavors were solid.

Torn between ordering a cold noodle bowl or small order of soup, I decided if I’m trying a place called Viet Pho I should probably taste some pho. My usual favorite is pho dac biet ($7.95), or what I call “all of the cow soup.” Featuring rare steak, flank, tendon, tripe and springy Vietnamese meatballs, it’s the dish that I first fell in love with and order again and again. The broth of this serving was subtle, perhaps not as flavorful as some but good enough that I didn’t feel the need to add any sauces. As is customary, a plate of fresh bean sprouts, hot pepper slices, and a more-than-generous sprig of Thai basil was provided with a couple of small wedges of lime. Once incorporated, the fresh veggies and herbs worked their magic.

Although I appreciate plenty of meat included with the noodles and veg, the tripe and tendon were very roughly cut into much larger pieces than I’ve ever seen before. Also, some portions of tendon were so tough I couldn’t eat them. The other meats were fine, so perhaps a little more precision with the knife and attention to the cooking technique would help.

This meal had some issues, but I’d return to try their good-looking pork banh mi sandwich and another cabbage salad. Though I don’t normally think of salads as comfort food, those at Viet Pho could be our new favorite thing.