What Do You Think?

 

Pho Chi isn't a pilot's name

Pho is a staple for any Cheap Eats diner, and my pho of choice for this week is Pho Chi.  Pho Chi is also a beer and wine store.  Do I really need to describe the environment in much more detail?  Guests can select their own beverage from the walls of refrigerators lining the restaurant/store.  You can even take an entire six-pack to the table to split with your friends.  Pho Chi scores economy points for this feature.

We begin our meal with summer rolls—two tightly rolled bundles of fresh herbs, crispy lettuce, rice noodles and shrimp.  I am impressed with the quality of the ingredients and the number of shrimp they stuff into the rice paper for $3.75.  Peanut dipping sauce is also good but I have to add Sriracha chili-garlic sauce for kicks.

The first thing I notice when my bowl of pho is placed in front of me is the aroma--salty-beefy-spicy with hints of anise and black pepper.  The broth is not as dense and dark as I would prefer, but it is flavorful nonetheless.  The second thing I notice is the color of the eye of round; bright red, an indicator of fresh, rare meat that cooks ever so slightly in the warmth of the broth, allowing it to melt in your mouth.  Flank steak is not quite as tender and a bit fatty.  Noodles have a good bite to them as they are neither soggy nor undercooked and the texture holds up well in the mix.  I appreciate the overabundance of scallions and cilantro floating on top.  Basil is a bit more wilted than I would have preferred, and a few bean sprouts are brown at the ends but are otherwise crispy.  Limes sections and jalapenos are juicy and fresh.  Aside from the usual Hoisen and Sriracha offerings, Pho Chi also provides each table with two house-made chili sauces.  Neither are scorching hot but both enhance the meaty flavor of the pho.

Consistency seems to be the joint’s downfall.   On my first visit I was quite impressed with my takeout order from the speed of my food preparation to the large container of deep, rich beef stock to generous portions of bright red eye-of-round.   I was even tickled by the presentation of my to-go order; noodles, beef and vegetables artfully laid out in a high-rim plastic bowl complete with lid, so that the only thing stopping me from enjoying my pho was reaching my destination and dumping the lot of broth into the bowl.  The food receptacle might not sound like such a big deal, but to anyone else wanting to eat their pho-to-go when they do not have access to a large soup bowl, this type of packaging is key.  You could imagine my disappointment upon my second attempt at pho take-out when I was presented with the usual Styrofoam vessel and a half-full container of paler broth.  Meat was also overcooked.  When I asked for more broth, the cook looked puzzled and responded with, “that enough broth.”  Perhaps this discrepancy was due to the fact that I was ordering from a different menu with different selections than I was presented with on my previous visit?

Communication is another weakness.  I expect a slight communication barrier usually points to the authenticity of the product.  But it is important to be able to communicate the ingredients of your food and understand your guests’ basic requests.  I spent quite a while trying to place my order before the cashier was able to process my desire for “rare” meat (hint: ask for “red” meat if you want rare).

I will be a returning customer to Pho Chi, partially for the rich broth a sometimes receive, but mostly because they stay open until 1am (Pho Chi closes its kitchen at 12:30).   A genius idea if you ask me, considering that a comforting bowl of hearty noodle soup is the perfect nightcap to a long night spent drinking and the open-past-8pm pho market has yet to be tapped in the area.

Pho Chi is located at 20D Montgomery Village Avenue in Gaithersburg.  Appetizers start at $3.50, rice and noodle bowls at $7.95 and bowls of pho $7.50. 

By Courtney Shay

MoCoVox News

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