Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Après Film Pho Dan

My bowl of # 42 A bun

This meal involves another après film dining session, and for the life of me, I cannot remember which film R and I went to see. I do remember liking it. The film really doesn’t matter, as this blog is about the food and the what-not. We went by Tâm Deli, and for some reason, they were closed (see previous GUSTIDUDE entry for the Tâm Deli report). So, not that far 
down the road to the north is Pho Dan, and we were already in a Vietnamese frame of mind, so north we went. Pho Dan is one of my go-to spots for pho, since they have good broth and lots of options. It sits in the strip center on the southwest corner of North Lamar and Braker Lane. That intersection, and general area, is a good food oasis of sorts, since Peace Deli and Bakery and Rice Bowl Café are in the same strip center, and Balkan Café and Grill and Santorini Café are a quarter mile up North Lamar to the north. Taquito Aviles is directly across North Lamar to the east, and a block south, at Kramer Lane, is MT Market, with TC Noodles (Teochew style Chinese), Duy Vietnamese, First Chinese BBQ, and New Fortune Chinese (seafood). Some folks love Lily’s Sandwich and Baguette House in the same shopping center for their bahn mi, but I prefer Tâm Deli, further south. You will not want for a good plate of food in the general area.

Sauces and accoutrement

I think the bozos who bitch online about service at Pho Dan are off-base. It is a simple restaurant, geared more towards turning tables while providing good food. The interior is stark and modern; not a spot designed for you to linger. Admittedly, service there is rudimentary at best, but relatively efficient. It involves a waitperson coming by to take your order, delivering your drinks, and someone dropping off your food when it’s cooked, and not necessarily the same person you’ve been dealing with already. You get up and pay at the register when you’re through. The odd part is that you don’t see your bill until you get up to the counter. That service model doesn’t bother me in the least, though I would expect a tab to be dropped of at the table, so that I can review it before arriving at the register. 

Small # 27, with egg noodles

Allow me a small rant. I’d like it even better if I could write my own order ticket, or enter my order code into a computer tablet, get my own drink from a beverage kiosk, and pick up my order from a counter when my number is called. I go to restaurants to eat and enjoy the companionship of my fellow diners, not interact socially with servers. I like my server to zip in and out, delivering what I need unobtrusively. Anticipate my needs, don’t screw up my order, give me a spoon with my set-up, lobby with the kitchen on my behalf if they are in the weeds and the food’s coming out slowly, give me a ticket when I’m ready to go, and we will all be happy when I leave. I reward a server who accomplishes that relatively simple goal handsomely for their attention. 

Side of meatballs, and the broth from the #24, option 31...

As for the meal, R and I started with A2A, fresh spring rolls with shrimp, and A7, fresh spring rolls with charbroiled beef. The rolls are plump and fresh, with a nice ratio of noodles to vegetable and filling, and served with a full bodied hoisin-peanut dipping sauce. The fried Vietnamese spring rolls (A1) were fine. Wrapped in lettuce and dipped in the nuoc cham sauce, they were a crispy counterpoint to the fresh spring rolls. If I had any complaint, it would be that the pork in the fried roll is ground too finely for my taste, but I quibble.

Fried spring rolls, and grilled lemongrass spring roll, and shrimp spring roll....

The whole trick with a bowl of pho (and it is pronounced “fuh”) is the richness and depth of the broth, and the kitchen at Pho Dan obviously takes care in producing theirs. Both the chicken and the meat broth are first rate. We ordered a # 24 soup with rice noodle, “dry”, meaning the broth is delivered on the side (known as the mysterious “option 31”). It comes with grilled pork and shrimp, and roast chicken, and a small bowl of rich chicken stock on the side, perfumed with scallion. We ate that as a bowl of noodles, like a bun, while I hogged the broth. We also got a small # 27, with egg noodles, chicken, pork, and shrimp. The pho is available in three different sizes, so you can tailor your meal to fit your appetite. We also got an order of meatballs in broth on the side. I really like their meatballs. They have that hand-pounded, dense texture that is the hallmark of a proper Southeast Asian meatball. I also ordered a #42 A, a big bowl of bun (pronounced “boone”), with rice noodles, topped with glazed grilled pork and fried eggroll, to eat later on that evening. The bowl has a nice layer of lettuce and cucumber as the basement for the rice noodles, and the glazed grilled pork and the eggroll on top are quite tasty. 

Small # 24, "dry"

It wasn’t Tâm Deli, but it sure works in a pinch when you’re hungry for Vietnamese food, and I really enjoyed that order of bun later on, curled up with some HBO. Apparently, Pho Dan has recently expanded, with a new location in Round Rock. My guess is that their new location is just as popular as the first one. Maybe now that they have two locations, they can spring for the cost of a website, and post their menu online. There’s just no excuse for a restaurant these days to keep their potential customers in the dark when it comes to their menu, their hours, or any other pertinent information a diner might want to know.

Mick Vann ©

11220 N. Lamar Ste. B-11, at Braker; 512-837-7800

2711 La Frontera Blvd, at 45, Round Rock; 512-527-3699

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