Over the past year or so, I've often driven past this place curious about what type of food it served -- Vietnamese and Italian -- it sounded interesting. Back then the restaurant was called Smooth. More recently, the name on the sign has changed, but the type of food served is still the same. So one day, I decided to be adventurous and have dinner here.
The first time I was here, it was about 8:00 pm and I found the restaurant practically empty. Was that a good sign? Well, it was a Friday night, so maybe people had already eaten, who knows...
Expecting to see strange combinations on the menu, I was surprised to see a separate menu of Vietnamese dishes and another containing Italian ones. Was that what I was afraid of? So I proceeded to order the lemongrass fish on rice (US$6.50).
On the menu, it said that this was made with seabass. Unfortunately, there was no seabass that night, so it was substituted with opah (moonfish). The fish was stir fried with lemongrass, garlic, green onions and some other herbs until "dry". When I say dry, I mean really dry. I could have choked if I ate this the way it arrived. Thankfully, a dish of fish sauce arrived at the table and the waitress explained that I needed to pour the fish sauce over the dish before eating. After spooning a little of the fish sauce over everything, I took a bite, and then another. The salty, tangy, and savory flavors along with the chunks of flaky fish made this worth every bite.
A few weeks later, I stopped by again and had the pho dac biet (US$5.95).
It was cold and rainy outside, so pho would have made the perfect meal. The pho dac biet served here had sliced beef, meat ball, tendon, tripe and brisket in it. The meats were lean and tender, the tendon was slippery and jellylike, and the tripe, well, let's just say that it was cooked perfectly. As you can see above, they were skimpy with the herbs. On the plate were three stems of basil and just a small handful of bean sprouts, some lime and cut green chillies, but no ngo gai. The broth here was very light and practically tasteless even though I could smell the aroma of anise as the bowl was being delivered to the table.
To go with my pho, I also ordered the cha gio (spring rolls; 5 pieces, US$5.95).
Served with butter lettuce, mint, sliced cucumber and a mound of rice noodles, the spring rolls were perfectly fried, they were crisp, crunchy and golden brown. Each bite was tasty, yet there was something unfamiliar there. Upon closer inspection, I found that inside each spring roll was some vermicelli noodles, a bit of ground pork, and lots of potato (or yam), giving the spring rolls a starchy flavor.
The food here at Pho Thuan-Loi is quite uneven. While the lemongrass fish was interestingly prepared and a delight to eat, the bowl of pho made me think twice about coming back. The service, at this family run establishment, was good and the prices are fairly reasonable. The next time I'm here, if I'm not having the lemongrass fish, I'm definitely going to try some of the Italian dishes.
2080 South King Street Suite 103