Review: Pho Saigon

I was going to write about Jean-Robert’s Table today, but he’s just going to have to wait.  Sorry, JR, but everyone knows about your restaurant.  I’m not sure so many folks know about this little gem south of the river.

I’ll be honest: I don’t go to Florence very often.  My company has an office in that neck of the woods, and I often go down there to train folks or do a few other things.  Today was one of those days.  After I finished, I needed lunch, but I also needed a relatively healthy lunch.  Terry and I have both been eating very thoughtfully and healthfully during the week (along with a pretty rigorous exercise program), and since I’ve been so diligent, I didn’t want to spoil my good streak by eating something unhealthy, which is easy to do.  I was looking for someplace where I could get salad, but as I got lost in the maze that is Florence (what’s up with all of the construction? And streets that don’t go where you think they would?) I stumbled upon Pho Saigon.

I love pho, but it’s a little difficult to find here in Cincinnati.  Song Long in Roselawn is on my “to-try” list, but I just don’t end up in Roselawn very often.  Cilantro is a nice option as well, but a little less traditional.  I’m waiting patiently for Pho Lang Sang to open up at Findlay Market, but until it’s open, it’s not an official option.  With the addition of Pho Saigon, we’re getting some much-needed Vietnamese cuisine expansion here in the tri-state.

I ordered two things: first, spring rolls, made with shrimp, mint, rice noodles and thin slices of giò lụa, which is a “sausage” made of pork and fish sauce.  It was wrapped in rice paper, and served with a satay sauce on the side.  I love Vietnamese food because it’s so aromatic.  Sure, most food smells good, but so often you can say, “Hey, that’s cilantro… and rendered chicken fat!” or “Mmm, grilled beef, and is that a hint of basil?”  Here, these herbs are front and center.  The mint, in combination with the cold shrimp and noodles, was really refreshing and different.  I loved the sauce as well.

Pho Saigon PhoFor an entree, I ordered Saigon-style pho, which in addition to beef includes the aforementioned giò lụa.  It is served in a large bowl with traditional pho condiments on the side: hoisin, fish sauce and Sriracha sauce at the table, and a plate of bean sprouts, fresh basil, fresh cilantro and slices of pepper presented with the bowl of soup.

In a word? Amazing.  The broth was rich and aromatic (there’s that word again), and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out just exactly what was seasoning the broth.  I definitely tasted anise and coriander, and it’s common for pho to include coriander, fennel, and cloves as well.  That’s one heady broth.  The beef, which was still a bit pink when I got it, could have been trimmed of gristle a bit more, but the broth and “vietnamese sausage” were so good that I didn’t care.  I ended up taking a good portion of it home and sipping on the broth for the rest of the day.

For me, this is absolutely worth the drive to Florence, and if you live in Florence– lucky!  I’m looking forward to trying other pho dishes, and I’m really hoping they eventually get banh mi on the menu as well.  They had a picture of it in the window, but it didn’t actually appear on the menu.  As far as price– $12 for the pho, a soda, and the spring rolls, but I could have easily skipped the rolls and just gotten the pho for lunch and kept lunch around $7.

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