Ready for a little PIK me up? Head over to PHO GARDEN at 1620 Post Road in Westport for some authentic Vietnamese delights! This brand new Asian dining offering, (formerly Zole'), has simple decor and an unimpressive neon sign outside the door, but don't let this turn you off. PHO GARDEN'S authentic menu is a welcome addition to the Westport restaurant scene. Plus, with Pho Mekong closing its doors across the street, PHO GARDEN is definitely worth checking out!
We started with the COLD SUMMER ROLLS (Goi Cuon) which were refreshing and flavorful. We could smell the cilantro from around the corner and the mint, vermacelli noodles, succulent pork, fresh shrimp, and crunchy veggies were perfectly encased in their rice paper wraps. A sweet, nutty sauce was there for dipping, topped with crunchy roasted peanuts and just a hint of spice. I'm embarrassed to say we followed this initial order with three subsequent requests for these light flavorful rolls. The CRISPY SPRING ROLLS (Cha Gio) were also delicious, packed with ground pork and glass noodles. There was a mild fish sauce in which the rolls were happy to be dunked, but I preferred to bathe mine in the light, slightly sweet, chili sauce. My favorite appetizer was the BEAN CURD SKIN (Tau Huky). Here, very thin sheets of Yuba or tofu skin surrounded freshly minced garlic, ginger, mushroom and spices with just a hint of soy sauce and honey and were (sorry!) deep fried. I also dipped this in the sweet, chili sauce with a dab of my staple, SRIRACHA sauce (actually a Thai hot sauce containing hot chili, sugar, salt, garlic, and vinegar) which is a MUST ADD, if you like some spice in your life.
Next on the agenda were the longest short ribs we'd ever seen! Braised in a sweet, tangy marinade these long 'shorts' were pounded flat and served with simple greens. You can order these plain or served with fried rice as a main course. Perhaps not a dish or consistency I'd rush back for but many at the table felt that the seasoning on these was worth a second order. The EGG NOODLES with VEGETABLES (Rau Cai) sauteed in a light garlic sauce was a definite crowd-pleaser (and entirely suitable for the younger crowd). The snow peas, broccoli and red pepper were fresh and al dente and were a perfect compliment to the tender noodles on which they lay. Garnished with fresh black pepper, the Rau Cai is my kind of guy. Another simple but well executed dish was the VERMACELLI NOODLE with GRILLED SHRIMP (Bun Tom Nuong). Here, perfectly cooked, thin pasta was topped with plenty of seasoned shrimp and beautifully presented. The shrimp were fresh as could be, plump and tasty.
Then, of course, came the PHO. Pho is a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup made with the broth and meat of beef, chicken, hen, or pork. It is probably the tell-tale dish which can make or break the decision to return to a Vietnamese restaurant. We went the chicken route (Pho Ga) and here's how it went down:
Pho comes as a steaming hot, gingery broth in a bowl with vermicelli noodles and meat already in place. Then, traditionally on the side, one gets a plate filled with bean sprouts, basil sprigs, cilantro, lime wedges, sometimes mint and often Thai chili or jalapeno peppers to drop in the soup. PHO GARDEN provided all required items and the result was tasty and satisfying, if perhaps a tad under-spiced. However, as the weather gets colder, I can't think of anything more satisfying.
PHO GARDEN is a great place for new-be Vietnamese tasters and even children can find yummy items that are mild and healthy. We tried the CHICKEN STIR FRY (Ga Xao Bong Cai) which was simply sauteed in a light garlic sauce with delicate spices and no "heat" to speak of. A child at the next table was chowing on this as well, along with the COLD SUMMER ROLLS, and she was happy as could be.
All this being said, it seems that PHO GARDEN is still testing the waters and taste buds of its Connecticut clientele. The CTBites crowd decided that the chefs might be catering to the wary taste buds of inexperienced Fairfield County-ers as all the dishes, though delicious, were a bit too mild. We say, "Bring it on PHO GARDEN - we're ready for more!"
NOTE: Only recently opened, PHO GARDEN is still working out some service and timing kinks. Be patient.
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