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Review: Pho Lang Thang

How do you pronounce p-h-o?

Here’s a video to help you. (Hint: Pho has nothing in common with knockoff Louis Vuittons or orange tans.)

Pho vs. Faux from Brian wilcox on Vimeo.

Now that we’ve got that cuteness out of the way– and no, the video is not for Cincinnati’s Pho Lang Thang, the newest restaurant addition to Findlay Market, and one of only 3 Vietnamese restaurants (that I know of) in Cincinnati.  Owners Duy and Bao Nguyen and David Le are trying to make food like Vietnamese grandmas do– fresh, traditional, and casual.

Man, I wish I had a Vietnamese grandmother.

Pho Lang Thang is located near Madison’s in the stores that surround the main market house at Findlay Market.  They’re open 9-6 Tuesday-Saturday, and 9-4 on Sunday.  At peak times– think a sunny Saturday– you will definitely wait for your food.  The buzz about this place has been steady since word got out that they were opening, and when we went on a Sunday afternoon, it was pretty packed.  I’ve heard folks say that they’ve had lines out the door.  I believe it.

The menu is fairly simple.  Appetizers include fried spring rolls (vegetarian and meaty), salad rolls (vegan and meaty), banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches), salads, pho (rice noodle soup) and bun (rice vermicelli soup).  There is also an assortment of Vietnamese beverages, including coffee, limeade, soy milk, plus standard sodas and water.  There is sit-down service in the dining room, though you can order take-out and eat it at the counter (and, on busy days, it appears that they do counter service as well– we got counter service).

The Fiance had never had Pho, so when I dragged him there on a chilly sunday, Pho was what he was going to get.  I wanted to try an order of summer rolls– didn’t want to do anything fried– but they were out of both the vegan and meat versions.  I’ll try them next time.  Instead, we ordered the steak pho bo and the banh mi thit nuong.

First, the pho:  a nearly-indescribable beef broth, very thick–and as pho broth is traditionally made with marrow-rich beef bones, and the marrow and gelatin gives it an amazing, rich mouthfeel.  It’s very similar to a consomme, which makes sense due to the French influence in Vietnamese cuisine (more on that in a couple of paragraphs).  It is very well seasoned: not too salty, not bland.  The noodles are perfectly cooked (they can get soggy) and the beef tender.  Pho is traditionally accompanied by condiments:  jalapeno, basil, cilantro, bean sprouts, fish sauce, hoisin, sriracha sauce, so we threw in a few swirls of sriracha, a little fish sauce,  and some cilantro and basil.  Just amazing– as my (German) grandmother would say, “It cures what ails you.”  If you haven’t tried pho, you must.  It’ll make you rethink good ol’ noodle soup forever.

The banh mi was also fantastic.  Banh mi really reflects the French influence in Vietnam.  Think about it: Vietnam was a French colony in the 19th and parts of the 20th century.  It makes sense that their cuisine would reflect that French influence.  Banh mi includes a lot of these influences.  First, its base is a baguette, and this one is a pretty nice one, though I’d prefer one that was a bit more on the crispy, rather than chewy side.  Next, banh mi are traditionally served with pate (though it’s optional at Pho Lang Thang) and mayonnaise.  These sandwiches aren’t much different than the sandwiches you can buy all over France, until you get down to the guts:  vegetables like pickled carrots, cucumbers, onions and an assortment of meats and other fillings.

The banh mi available at Pho Lang Thang are of three varieties: cold cuts (ham and head cheese, in this case), grilled meat (we tried the lemongrass-marinated chicken), and fried tofu.  (There are a ton of other fillings, and recipes to make your own, at th

e Banh Mi Battle blog).  The sandwich was excellent:  juicy, flavorful, savory, and well-accompanied by just a bit of hoisin and sriracha.  I inhaled that sandwich.  It’s probably one of the best sandwiches I’ve had in ages.

So, that was a glowing review, right?  I really mean it– this is some stuff you have to try right now.  Their pho has totally replaced both chicken noodle and matzoh ball as my “I’m sick, I want soup” craving.  It’s not another sushi joint.  I’m so glad to see non-Chinese, non-sushi Asian-style food available in Cincinnati.   There is, however, one downside.  Though Pho Lang Thang offers carryout and bike delivery, pho can’t be ordered for either because the broth melts the containers.  My solution?  I’ll come by with a ceramic bowl.  Think they’ll let me take it out then?

Pho Lang Thang on Urbanspoon

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