Pho de­lights at Viet­namese spot

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - South Broward - - DINING -

It’s win­ter in South Florida, which means it is not quite cold enough to break out the mit­tens and scarves, but cer­tainly the right time to slurp down a steam­ing bowl of soup.

You’ll hear plenty of slurp­ing at Bran­don Asian Cui­sine in Davie as pa­trons lap up all man­ner of soul-sus­tain­ing good­ness. How­ever, this off­shoot of the pop­u­lar Pho Bran­don in Sun­rise is not just about pho (pro­nounced “fuh”), the Viet­namese beef noo­dle soup that’s a break­fast sta­ple in Saigon.

Bran­don Asian Cui­sine, which took over a cor­ner spot in the Food­town strip mall on Stir­ling Road last year, aims to be more than a soup joint. The room is more re­fined and com­fort­able than the no-frills orig­i­nal, with a dozen wood-trimmed booths along the win­dows and larger ta­bles, along with a pri­vate karaoke room, in the back. The place is of­ten filled with multi­gen­er­a­tional Asian fam­i­lies, al­ways a good sign. Hong Nguyen runs the kitchen here. Hus­band and co-owner David Nguyen still over­sees the Sun­rise lo­ca­tion.

The Food­town plaza al­ready boasts the solid Pho 79 and the Banh Mi Cafe. Bran­don Asian has higher as­pi­ra­tions. There are tra­di­tional rice plates and ver­mi­celli bowls, but no banh mi sand­wiches. (The lease stip­u­lates they could only serve one ti­tle item al­ready fea­tured in the plaza. Wisely they stuck with the soup.) The menu here casts a wide net, boast­ing frog legs, goat, quail and whole fish. There are hot pots for those who like DIY cook­ing, and Chi­nese and Thai-in­flu­enced dishes.

You’ll be do­ing your­self a dis­ser­vice if you don’t in­hale at least a small batch of Bran­don’s pho ($7.95 small, $9.95 large) — no mat­ter the time of day or year. 6417 Stir­ling Road, Davie 954-908-5153 Cui­sine: Asian/Viet­namese Cost: In­ex­pen­sive/mod­er­ate Hours: 11 a.m.-mid­night Sun­day-Thurs­day; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Fri­day and Satur­day Reser­va­tions: Ac­cepted Credit cards: All ma­jor Bar: Lim­ited beer se­lec­tion Sound level: Con­ver­sa­tional Out­side smok­ing: No out­door seat­ing For kids: High­chairs, kids’ menu Wheel­chair ac­ces­si­ble: Yes Park­ing: Free This is a won­drous beef broth, re­duced from a compost of bones, meat, mar­row, fat and aromatics, 19 in­gre­di­ents sim­mered for 20 hours. Be­fore squirt­ing in Sriracha sauce or chili paste, al­low your­self the sim­ple plea­sure of this com­plex liq­uid. Then, go to town on a bowl teem­ing with rice noo­dles, meats, onions and the ac­compa- ny­ing gar­nish­ments, a tow­er­ing plate of bean sprouts, basil, cu­lantro, jalapeno and lime.

I’ve been a soup nut all my life, ever since my Grandma Mary la­dled her fluffy matzo balls and golden chicken soup into my child­hood in Brook­lyn. (And for those of you won­der­ing why your metro news colum­nist is writ­ing a restau­rant re­view, I’m happy to re­port I’m not giv­ing up my day job, but I’ll be do­ing this as a side dish. What can I say? I like to eat.) My grand­mother made Jewish peni­cillin. Pho is Viet­namese peni­cillin, good for cur­ing ev­ery­thing from hang­overs to heartache. Be­sides an as­sort­ment of meats that in­cludes thinly sliced eye round, fatty brisket, ten­don and tripe, Bran­don also serves ver­sions with grilled beef or pork. Our ta­ble had the grilled beef. The ten­der, charred meat suf­fused the broth with a sweeter, teriyaki-like edge.

We also tried hu tieu ga ($8.95), a white-meat chicken noo­dle soup with a base made from chicken and pork. It’s more del­i­cate and sub­tle than the beef broth.

Por­tions are gen­er­ous. Most dishes can eas­ily be shared by two or three peo­ple. Spring rolls ($4.25) are plump, soft, rice-pa­per wraps stuffed with bean sprouts, ver­mi­celli noo­dles, mint leaves and thin, cross-cut slices of shrimp and pork loin. The peanut dip­ping sauce was a bit thin, but fla­vor­ful.

Those shrimp and pork slices made ap­pear­ances in sev­eral ap­pe­tiz­ers, in­clud­ing crepes ($8.50) and a lotus root salad ($10.95). The puffy fried crepe was crisp, but marred by a mound of sprouts and herbs that were too much. Lotus root, a crunchy stem with a sweet bite, made for a re­fresh­ing change of pace. Both were served with “spe­cial house sauce,” a tart, red­pep­per-flecked con­coc­tion with a fish sauce base.

Pasta rolls ($6.95) were an odd, de­con­structed plate: chewy hunks of steamed rice flour, cu­cum­bers, sprouts, mint and Asian ham — fla­vor­less, fatty, pro­cessed slices that were a cross be­tween pate and bologna, and rem­i­nis­cent of some­thing I last ate in the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Served with that spe­cial sauce, the dish was weirdly sat­is­fy­ing.

Some fa­mil­iar items spanned the Asian land­scape. Salt-and­pep­per shrimp ($11.95), pre­pared with or with­out shells (we got with­out), were crisp, lightly bat­tered and piled over let­tuce and an un­re­strained amount of scal­lions. The com­bi­na­tion fried rice ($10.95) was bet­ter than the stuff you’ll get from your lo­cal Chi­nese take­out, thanks to sticky rice that gave the dish rich­ness and heft.

Fried frog legs in but­ter ($11.95), a nod to Viet­nam’s French colo­nial era, were a bit greasy at plate’s bot­tom, but the sweet meat near the spindly bones com­pen­sated. And yes, it tasted like chicken.

The Thai-style hot pot ($34.95), a spicy caul­dron placed atop a por­ta­ble stove, rocked. When the red-tinted liq­uid starts bub­bling, you use lit­tle mesh bas­kets to cook the ac­com­pa­ny­ing plate of raw seafood, meat and veg­eta­bles. The frozen scal­lops were off-putting. The rest (shrimp, squid, tilapia and eye round) was fine, along with heap­ing mounds of greens and ver­mi­celli noo­dles. Get­ting ev­ery­thing cooked and as­sem­bled into bowls felt like work.

But the re­sult was pure plea­sure: a pi­quant, pep­pery, sour broth filled with good­ies and spiked with lemon­grass that hit all the right umami notes.

Ser­vice was friendly, al­though stretched when there was a crowd. Only two servers were work­ing on a re­cent busy week­end night. The restau­rant opens early (11 a.m.) and closes late, mid­night week­days and 2 a.m. Fri­days and Satur­days. The beer se­lec­tion is hit-or-miss. One time, they were out of im­ports. The next visit, they didn’t have do­mes­tics.

There wasn’t much in the way of dessert, a fried ba­nana with ice cream ($5.95) and some fruit smooth­ies. When I tried to or­der the ba­nana on a lunch visit, the waiter looked baf­fled, checked with the kitchen and said, “Sorry, we only do that for large groups.”

That’s OK. Bran­don hit the sweet spot with that pho.

MIKE MAYO/SOUTH FLORIDA.COM

In a nod to Viet­nam’s French colo­nial era, Bran­don Asian Cui­sine serves fried frog legs in but­ter.

MAR­IAN LIU/SOUTH­FLORIDA.COM

You’ll be do­ing your­self a dis­ser­vice if you don’t try the pho at Bran­don Asian Cui­sine.

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