Tuesday, December 6, 2011

...Pho Van [off-topic]

I crave soup when it's cold outside.

Not only soup, but any liquefied, hot, edible food or drink.  On the first cold day this past fall, I came home and immediately made myself a pot of hot water and proceeded to drink 3 full mugs of black tea.  I pulled out my cookbook and started making a list of ingredients that I needed for Hungry Girl's Chunky Veggie Pumpkin Chili, my favorite crock pot meal.

Call it a coping mechanism for Seasonal Affective Disorder, if you will.

When I went to Smoke BBQ & Taqueria with James and Food Collage, they were discussing pho, a traditional Vietnamese dish, which is available at two different restaurants in the Strip District - Vietnam's Pho, and Pho Van, which is newer.  I was clueless as to what this "pho" term referred, and they explained that it is a noodle soup.  

Noodle soup?  As a full meal?  I could definitely do that when it's cold out!

James and I made a trip to the Strip District on a chilly Sunday afternoon, so pho was definitely on my mind.  We warmed up earlier with coffee at 21st Street Coffee, one of James' favorite coffee stops, stopped in Chicken Latino to re-stock on some green sauce, and headed to Pho Van for lunch before going to Stan's Market and Wholey's to get some produce and fresh fish for dinner later.

The restaurant itself, upon first impression, looked as if it wasn't kept up well, for a newer restaurant, but I noticed a sign that they would be closed for a few days over the Thanksgiving weekend for renovations.  

While looking over the menu, I noticed that one of the beverages listed was a durian fruit smoothie, which James had mentioned in our discussion of the restaurant was one of the stinkiest fruits in existence.  Glad he mentioned that, as I was not in the mood for a stinky smoothie, but I did notice another smoothie option - avocado.

Done.  Sold.  Had to try it.  

Avocado is, of course, the base of any good guacamole - a Mexican food condiment.  How could I resist a smoothie made from that same base?
Avocado Smoothie

It was SO THICK.  They gave me a 1/2 inch-wide straw to use with it - and it was totally necessary, My spoon got some use, too, but this smoothie was creamy and flavorful.  James asked our waiter what all was in it, and he told us that it was just avocado, condensed milk, and ice.  

Huh.  I could make that at home....

For our appetizer, we ordered spring rolls - not spring rolls that are fried, like you'd get at a Chinese restaurant, but made with rice noodles (which is why they are clear), shrimp, mint, lettuce, and bean sprouts.  The sauce is a peanut dipping sauce, not unlike that of a Thai restaurant.  I prefer this type of spring roll because A.) it's healthier, B.) the mint adds a distinct flavor to the roll, and C.) I love peanut ANYTHING.

Spring Rolls, peanut sauce
For our pho, I had no idea what to choose, so I left it up to James, resident pho expert (out of the two of us, at least).  We both ordered the pho tai, which is the pho base (rice noodles and a beef broth with onions, charred ginger, and a variety of other Asian spices) with flank steak.  I was shocked at how HUGE the bowl was!  I could use a bowl like that to eat soup at home, personally.

Pho Tai
 Accompanying the enormous bowl of pho was a plate full of basil, bean sprouts, and - what's this?! - JALAPENOS!  AND LIME!  I felt right at home with these traditional Latino flavors!  As is tradition, these are served separately with pho for the consumer to add according to his or her personal preferences.  

Basil, bean sprouts, jalapeno, lime
How nice.  Kind of like do-it-yourself table-side guacamole at Verde.  I like it.

The pho was hot, tasty, and full of the flavors that I preferred - I couldn't complain one bit.  With a little sriracha, my pho was perfectly spicy and did a great job of warming me up!  Although it wasn't nearly as cold on this day as it will be in the coming months, I know exactly where to go when I need a meal to thaw me out.

Pho Van
2120 Penn Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15222 (Strip District)

Website: http://phovan.net

Pho Van on Urbanspoon

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