Welcome to EatWisconsin, the blog formerly known as Undelicious. This blog will focus on the food, the people, the history, and restaurants in the State of Wisconsin. Though we will focus primarily on the State of Wisconsin, there will be occasional forays into other Cities.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Pho Tu Trinh Review

For years I have heard about pho, the Vietnamese dish with noodles, vegetables, and meat in an aromatic broth made with oxtails, beef, star anise, cinnamon, fish sauce, and ginger. Along side the pho, you are usually served limes, bean sprouts, jalapenos, thai basil, cilantro and various other accouterments which you add to your soup as you eat it. Meat, cilantro, jalapeno? I love these things. So why is it that I have never tried this stuff? I guess the opportunity never presented itself. I do not live near any Vietnamese restaurants and the thought of going to one for dinner had really never crossed my mind. The other day I had enough. I was sick of reading about the wonderful symphony of textures and flavors. What really enticed me was an online chat with the Journal’s restaurant critic, Dennis Getto. While I think a lot of his reviews give mediocre restaurants rave reviews, he has never steered me wrong when reviewing Asian restaurants (Side note: Getto’s been here forever. I guarantee every restaurant has his photo on the wall in the kitchen and rewards for sporting him. I think in many places he gets star treatment that other diners don’t receive, leading to the favorable reviews. This is not his fault, but diners need to be aware of this). In the online chat he recommended one place, Pho Tu Trinh, located at 2344 S. 27th St..

The restaurant is small and somewhat difficult to spot while traveling down 27th Street. There are a couple of off-street spots and plenty of on-street parking. When I entered there were a bunch of Vietnamese guys playing cards at a table and one guy eating. I was promptly seated and presented with the menu. If you don’t know the language, the menu can be intimidating. The dish names are in Vietnamese with the only American description being the meat products inside. I stared at the pages of the menu for a couple of minutes and decided on the house special, which was a Pho dish with all kinds of meat (fat brisket, meatball, skirt steak, eye of round, tendon, and tripe. While the thought of tendon and tripe scared the shit out of me, I figured I would order the Pho as is.

While I waited for my food, the guy seated at the table next to me received his bowl of Pho. I immediately smelled the fragrant broth as the waiter walked by my table. Soon after was brought a large bowl filled with the fragrant steaming broth and chunks of meat floating among noodles and chopped scallions. On the side there was thai basil, some other leafy herb, a lime, some fresh slices of jalapeno, and a mound of bean sprouts. The waiter also showed me the array of sauces and encouraged me to try the sweet sauce (tasted like Hoisin sauce to me) and the hot sauce (which was just a bottle of Sirhacha). I added them both to my Pho, gave it a stir with the chopsticks, and added basil, lime, jalapeno, and some of the bean sprouts.

Let me tell you, it was love at first taste. The broth had a depth of flavor that quite honestly; I have never had in a soup. Each taste revealed different ingredients. Some tasted of Star Anise and ginger others of the distinctive taste of a fresh jalapeno or cinnamon. The soup became hotter as I ate it as the jalapeno (with seeds) slowly released its essence into the soup. I refreshed the soup often with lime and Thai basil. Most of the meat in the soup looked strange (when you boil red meat it takes on a pork-like appearance. However the taste was great. I especially liked the fat brisket because in addition to the flavor of the broth, the flavor of the meat held up well. What I could have done without is the tripe and tendons. I tried both of them and basically thought “what’s the point?” Neither of them tasted offensive, in fact neither of them tasted like much at all but the texture (especially the tendon) was a bit strange. The tripe was chewy and easily mixed in with the noodles, I just didn’t like the texture of it. The tendon also lacked any offensive flavor, but the texture was kind of glutinous and chewy. I ate most of the tripe and avoided eating anymore tendon. Despite my misgivings about these items, the meal was excellent. I really enjoyed getting to the bottom of the bowl only to discover there were more chunks of meat that I hadn’t found yet.

For those who may be intimated by Southeast Asian cuisine Pho may sound too exotic for American palates. However when you really get down to it, Pho is loaded with stuff we Americans love: noodles, broth, and beef. Think of it as Asian comfort food along the lines of beef noodle soup. It’s not spicy unless you like it that way and if you stick with meats like brisket and flank you will not be disappointed. Another thing you will not be disappointed in is the price. I think my entire meal including an extremely large bowl of Pho and a soda set me back a whopping 8 bucks.

Pho Tu Trinh also offers several appetizers. I watched as one diner enjoyed two types of rolls, a spring roll with an almost transparent wrapper and some fried rolls. They also offer several Vietnamese sandwiches which are only 3 bucks each. On my next visit, which will be very soon, I will have to try some of the other items along with the Pho.

I cannot recommend this restaurant enough. I now know why everyone raves about Pho. If you don’t go here, you are an idiot.

Other resources:
Journal Article on Pho Tu Trinh
Pho entry in Wikipedia

A great article from Viet World Kitchen


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