A few days ago, I said to my Spousal Unit (SU), "Can we please get a pho fix in the next few days?"
I had to twist his arm for all of a nanosecond.
We went last night, back to Mekong (5944 34th ((aka US 19))St. N.). Ah, Mekong, Mekong of the fragrant, subtly spiced pho broth.
For appetizers, we had goi cuon (still my favorite roll) and bahn mi ba le.
The goi cuon were very good. Goi cuon are called a variety of things on local menus. I have seen them variously referred to as garden rolls, salad rolls, summer rolls, and fresh rolls. Whatever they are called, I call them delicious if they are well executed. A rice paper roll is softened in hot water, and filled with lettuce, shrimp, lean roast pork, cold vermicelli noodles, and fresh herbs (I have had them with cilantro, mint, basil and garlic chives, but not all at once). Sometimes they also might contain finely sliced, lightly pickled cucumber or carrot or daikon (I think it was daikon). When the ingredients are fresh and first rate, the results are wonderful. This cold roll is a perfect finger salad/sandwich. I understand that there is another dipping sauce, but in the Bay area, I have only ever had them served with a hoisin-based sauce, and a bit of the red chili sauce called sriracha.
Email me privately and I will tell you about our misadventure trying to make goi cuon, the cold fresh garden roll, at home. Suffice it to say that while they were tasty, because the ingredients were good, Im not planning to give up my day job any time soon. I just wish I had taken pictures; it was pretty funny, or sad, depending on your frame of mind. There is a definite skill set required for dealing well with rice paper wrappers. I dont have it (yet). Two rolls cost $3.00. The goi cuon at Mekonk, IMO, are good.
The bahn mi is a Vietnamese sandwich. It was a hot, crusty baguette (remember the French colonization of Viet Nam) stuffed with sliced meat (cold, lean roast pork, maybe others), cilantro, the above mentioned pickled cucumber and carrot. It was really good. One sandwich (enough for one to lunch one) cost $2.50).
There is a LOT more on the menu at Mekong than pho, but, I was jonesing for pho. SU had the Pho Mekong (Dac Biet), and I had the Pho Ga.
Dac Biet is described as Mekong special beef soup. The pho stock for both dishes was slightly aromatic and spicy. The quart-sized bowl ($5.50) was supplied with plenty of flat rice noodles and sliced green onion. The Dac Biet is a rustic pho, replete with beef tendon, tripe and the ominous beef ball which seems to be a mildly flavored sausage, as well as sliced beef. If you dont like to eat quite so adventurously, there are more genteel variations available.
The Pho Ga is a chicken pho. Another quart sized bowl was abundantly supplied with flat rice noodles in delicious broth, shredded chicken meat, and thin sliced green onion.
Our pho was accompanied by a heaping plate of fresh, crispy bean sprouts, basil, sliced jalapeno and lime wedges. Each table at Mekong is also laden with an assortment of condiments. There is no need to ever eat pho the same way twice.
My Vietnamese cookbook calls for star anise, fresh ginger, yellow onions, cloves and fish sauce to flavor the beef stock. The stock at Mekong is delightful.
For about $20, we ate heartily, and brought home a pint of pho between us.