Mr. Western Pho

For top­notch cre­ative phos and pas­tas, head di­rectly to Pho Ong Tay

Oi Vietnam - - Money Talks - Text by Wes Grover Im­ages by Ngoc Tran

IT M AY B E DI F F I C U LT T O find Pho Ong Tay (39 Vo Trung Toan, D2), lo­cated on the fringes of Thao

Dien in Dis­trict 2, but it’s well worth the ef­fort for an un­con­ven­tional eatery that’s de­cid­edly de­li­cious. The of­fer­ings are wide­spread—in ad­di­tion to a thick menu, chalk­boards adorn the walls with an as­sort­ment of spe­cialty dishes, craft cock­tails and fresh fruit juices. While you can stop by for pretty much any­thing from an English break­fast to an in­dul­gent dessert of choco­late salami in vanilla sauce, the em­pha­sis is on Ital­ian pasta and, as one might ex­pect, pho. Per­haps an un­con­ven­tional com­bi­na­tion, it turns out that these two culi­nary tra­di­tions can pair quite nicely when you have a chef who knows their stuff, and that’s clearly the case here.

With plant­ings cling­ing to brick walls, an open air lay­out that in­vites a breeze, and a well-stocked bar, Pho Ong Tay is a re­fresh­ingly un­pre­ten­tious joint serv­ing up break­fast in the early morn­ings, late night eats un­til 11pm, and every­thing in be­tween six days a week (Tues­days are off ).

Start­ing with a round of bev­er­ages, we wet­ted our whis­tles with a Peroni (VND60,000) and freshly made ap­ple juice (VND30,000) be­fore jump­ing into a cou­ple of ap­pe­tiz­ers that in­cluded tomato br­uschetta toasted baguette slices topped with toma­toes and a driz­zle of olive oil (VND40,000). A bite in and things were bod­ing well with gar­den-fresh toma­toes and a qual­ity baguette that had just the right amount of crunch on the out­side and soft­ness on the in­side. A salmon salad (VND90,000), loaded with veg­gies, a hard-boiled egg, and salmon mar­i­nated in a bal­samic sauce, rounded out our

starters. Thinly sliced and full of fla­vor, the salmon was gen­er­ously por­tioned in a salad that could hold its own as an en­trée.

When it came to the main course, the de­ci­sions were sim­ply too tough and we de­ferred to the en­gag­ing staff, who di­rected us to­ward the spe­cial pho with every­thing (VND60,000) and the home­made gnoc­chi (VND40,000), which the chef had just made that day, in a creamy pesto sauce with baby shrimp (VND90,000). At this point it’s worth point­ing out their sys­tem of al­low­ing cus­tomers to choose their de­sired type of pasta and pair it with one of the sauces on a wide-rang­ing list, such as the duck ragout and vegetable sauce or the spicy arra­bi­ata sauce.

Soft and fluffy, the gnoc­chi were sim­ply ex­cep­tional. The light, lit­tle Top to bot­tom: Ti­ramisu, Gnoc­chi and creamy pesto sauce with baby shrimp, Salmon salad pil­lows doused in a rich sauce made for a high­light dish that we will un­doubt­edly be de­vour­ing again. The spe­cial pho, fla­vored with an aro­matic blend of herbs and spices, had a tasty, al­most sweet, kick to it and came with five dif­fer­ent cuts of beef. The qual­ity of the meat in par­tic­u­lar was what stood out here, as this was not your typ­i­cal street-side soup. It’s in­cred­i­ble what a dif­fer­ence it makes when a bowl of pho is pre­pared with ten­der, not chewy, beef.

Though we didn’t have enough space to try them on this visit, there were a few cre­ative pho twists on the menu that caught our eyes, specif­i­cally the Thai-in­spired tom yum pho and the salmon pho. Come the next late night crav­ing, we know where we’re head­ing.

What we did, of course, have enough space for was dessert. Nav­i­gat­ing a mouth­wa­ter­ing list that in­cluded a dark choco­late mousse served with spicy mango sauce, as well as a tra­di­tional lemon panna cotta in choco­late sauce, for this fi­nal round we opted for the clas­sic ti­ramisu (VND60,000) and have ab­so­lutely no re­grets. Served in a clay pot, the lay­ered tex­tures of cus­tard and cake dipped in cof­fee and topped with co­coa pow­der pro­vided us with just the right pick me up. At the chef ’s rec­om­men­da­tion, we couldn’t say no to pair­ing the ti­ramisu with a Bud­weiser Bud­var Dark Lager (no, not the wa­tery Amer­i­can beer, but rather a Czech Repub­lic brew) that proved the per­fect way to wash down the dessert with a crisp li­ba­tion. In the end, it was a meal that left our stom­achs happy, es­pe­cially know­ing that we had found a new haunt with qual­ity cui­sine in a friendly and ca­sual at­mos­phere.

Spe­cial pho with every­thing

Br­uschetta with toma­toes and olive oil

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