• Greg McNeil

Pho-no! What to eat when you’re sick

I’m sick. Yes nation, I have been crippled by a cold but The Stute must go on! At the suggestion of Editor-in-Chief Lisa Mengotto, I decided to take advantage of my illness and detour back onto Washington Street to Pho Nomenon Noodle & Grill. I would be reviewing Pho under my usual rankings of service, atmosphere, quality and price. I would be undertaking this conquest with woodworking expert and cheese connoisseur Hans deWaal. Hans was not sick but was still eager to try some Vietnamese food.

We ventured to Pho on a Sunday afternoon. Forgetting it was the Hoboken Arts and Music festival, I expected the restaurant to be packed, like many of the other restaurants close to the small stage. Alas, there were not many people inside, which immediately raised a yellow flag in my mind. Ignoring my preconceptions, Hans and I took a seat. Observing the room, I was largely opinionated – the atmosphere was that of a generic Southeast Asian restaurant. That is to say, it did not stand out as being good or bad. That said, mediocrity is something a business in Hoboken cannot afford with the intense competition in the Hoboken restaurant industry.

We were quickly waited on by a nice waitress. She did not give any special recommendations – something I always enjoy hearing – but was very prompt in bringing the menus, taking our order, and topping off our water glasses.

We decided to order off their lunch special, since we were there for lunch. One trend I have noticed with Asian restaurants in Hoboken is that they have great lunch specials! We ordered a pork pot sticker appetizer, a bowl of beef pho noodles, a ginger chicken dish and a Thai iced tea.

The first item to come was the Thai iced tea. The first thing that jumped out at me was the color – it was bright orange! I was skeptical but dove in and ended up really enjoying it. The tea flavors worked well with the condensed milk used to sweeten the drink. Hans was more difficult to please. He did not like the sweetness of the tea and and opted to let me have the majority of the drink. The tea size was good and for three dollars. I felt like I got my money’s worth. Quickly after the tea, the food started to come.

First, the pot stickers came out. The portion was sized at 6 dumplings and was more than enough for the two of us in addition to our meals. The dumplings had a nice crunch on them while being soft in the center. They were warm throughout and the meat was seasoned well. Combined with the soy sauce they served them with, it was a good start to the meal!

Hans’ ginger chicken was the first entree out. When Hans ordered that, I thought to myself what a strange dish that was to order at a restaurant specializing in pho noodles. When I questioned him, Hans quickly brought up the point that ginger has known medicinal properties, especially with colds. The dish arrived and was already off to a bad start. Something I noticed right away was the lack of color on the chicken. It was solid white. After I bit into the chicken I realized that it was boiled which explained the color and lack of sear. I did, however, stumble onto a greater problem. I noticed that the chicken lacked any type of seasoning – something I find unacceptable whether it’s Cluck U or Gordon Ramsay Steak. Hans was also aware of the lack of seasoning, which the ginger sauce did very little to remedy. Overall, we were both disappointed by the dish.

Then came the dish I had been looking forward to: the beef broth noodles! As the specialty of the restaurant, I was really looking forward to a perfectly cooked, soft piece of beef, tender noodles, and most important, a broth that had been simmering for hours on the stove. The dish came out and I immediately noticed the stellar presentation the big chunks of beef and the extra large bowl was pleasing to my eye and made me even more excited to jump into this bowl. I took a spoonful of broth and some noodles and was met with satisfaction. The broth was flavorful and the noodles were light and soft. The noodles worked very well with the broth but did not provide much in terms of seasoning or their own flavor. If I had to suggest an eating tip, I would recommend taking a spoonful of broth and placing some noodles in the spoon. The most disappointing part of the dish was the beef. It was obvious that it had been cooking in the broth all day, which had great results on the broth but made the beef tough and dry. It was a disappointing end to an otherwise great dish.

Overall, I had mixed results about Pho. The things that were good were really good: the broth, noodles, pot stickers and ice tea. Additionally, the soup hit the spot and made me feel great! Overall I would recommend Pho with the asterisk that you order the soup.

Quality: ★★★

Budget: ★★★★

Service: ★★★★

Atmosphere: ★★★

A note about ratings:

Much like the great film reviewer, Robert Ebert, the ratings are relative, not absolute. The rating must be taken in context with the types of restaurant that I am reviewing. For example, I may give a fast casual restaurant “5 out of 5” stars for quality of food and a fine dining restaurant “2 out of 5 stars”. Does that mean the fast casual place has better food? No, of course not! It just means that in the context of fast casual restaurants, the restaurant is pretty good!

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