With all those exotic sushi rolls that chef Kenzo Tran made famous at his Piranha Killer Sushi locations, you might wonder if he’s also going rogue with the Vietnamese chow prepared at Pho District, his latest venture. Tran, who was born in Saigon, seems to regard the culinary staples of his Southeast Asian homeland as a little more sacred. Despite Pho District’s trendy West 7th Street spot, the menu here is basic and mostly traditional. The appetizers and entrées also are prepared with great care and stellar ingredients, so Viet food neophytes as well as veterans should be impressed.
The avocado spring rolls featured large cores of fresh avocado with bits of cilantro and tendrils of sweet marinated carrot stuffed inside thin layers of filo-like pastry dough and then deep-fried until crispy. The soft, rich fruit and the crunchy pastry skins were a great contrast. The chorizo rice pancake was advertised as a “small plate” option, but what arrived was considerably larger than your average tapas serving: a thick mashed-rice patty with the soft and chewy texture of a grit cake generously covered with slices of pork sausage over a hay-like layer of savory, thinly shredded pork jerky. The pork flavors were accented by a nice hint of sweetness.
[pullquote_right]If you’ve never tried pho before, this is a good place to start.[/pullquote_right] The pho comes in four varieties: pho ga (with chicken) and pho bo (with beef), as well as so-called “dry” versions of each. Dry pho comes with the broth in a side bowl, allowing you to mix the ingredients –– firm vermicelli noodles, fresh basil leaves, crunchy bean sprouts, long shoots of fragrant green onions –– in whatever proportions you wish. Well-made pho broth is one of the great gifts from the food gods, and Tran’s brownish-gold broth is full of delicate flavors without the excess salt that mars some versions. The beef in the pho bo arrived in the form of lean cuts of brisket and sirloin plus dense, hearty meatballs. No tripe or tendon scraps here to scare off newbies. If you’ve never tried pho before, this is a good place to start.
Another beloved Southeast Asian “street food,” the french bread sandwich known as banh mi, gets a superior treatment here with a braised pork-belly filling. A big baguette, super-flaky on the outside and soft inside, held a slender filling of the pork, plus cilantro sprigs, pickled carrot and cucumber slaw, and a hard-boiled egg cut into halves. The thick, tender, bacon-like slabs of fatty pork belly, like many so-called “sweet meats,” retained a slightly gamy aftertaste (offset by a sweet-ish marinade) that wouldn’t please everyone. But confirmed banh mi fans should treasure its authentic flavors and textures.
The kimchee fried rice was delightful. You might wonder how well the intricate flavors of kimchee –– cabbage pickled in a spicy blend of garlic, ginger, and hot peppers –– would survive the pan-frying method. But the tastes of garlic and fruity ginger rose lightly and impressively from the rich, soft mounds of fried white rice.
If you’re unfamiliar with Vietnamese cuisine, Pho District is a friendly, tasty place to experiment. Also, in keeping with the low prices at many traditional Vietnamese restaurants, the menu is budget-friendly, especially for a West 7th hangout. But with the many small family-owned Vietnamese eateries available in nearby Haltom City and Arlington, will veteran fans of Viet victuals make Pho District a regular destination? Time will tell. But by mostly playing it safe with high-quality ingredients, Kenzo Tran has done very well by the food of his Saigon youth.
2401 W 7th St, Ste 117, FW. 817-862-9988. 11am-10pm Sun-Thu, 11am-11pm Fri-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.
Avocado spring rolls…………………… $6.95
Pho bo………………………………………. $10.95
Kimchee fried rice………………………. $8.95
Braised pork belly banh mi…………… $7.95