I have been searching for a good place to eat pho (Vietnamese beef soup) for my entire four years in New York. I am positive that there are authentic, hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese places dotting the city that haven't discovered and quite frankly, don't have the balls to seek out, seeing as I speak zero Vietnamese and authentic in NYC, for almost any "ethnic" cuisine, usually presents some sort of a language barrier. Chinese food is a good example of this. Just go to a non-tourist trap place in Chinatown and you'll see what I mean. Luckily I know the names of all my favorite foods in Chinese, but as far as Vietnamese food goes, all I can articulate is "pho! pho!"
So, that being said, I've tried a few places in search of the perfect pho, but until last night I have been disappointed. In one place, the broth was actually chicken stock (probably right out of a Swanson box), not beef broth. In another place, the beef was over boiled and sinewy, dare I say, old. At yet another place, the noodles were not the delicate, hair-thin kind that slurp down so perfectly. Rather, they were udon noodles. Lovely in Japanese soup, but no for pho.
I grew quite discouraged. My good friend Mike, who is half Vietnamese, half Chinese, has been trying to organize a pho-hunting trip for quite some time, and I am happy to say that I think our search might finally be over.
Vronsky and I went to Nam last night, a chic but not trendy Vietnamese place down in Tribeca that is run by a trio of Vietnamese cooks. There is plenty of other delicious food on the menu, but I only had eyes for pho. It came out of the kitchen, nearly overflowing, hot and delicious, the beef lean and fresh and sliced thin, slightly pink in the middle, which is how pho should be served. You then bury it under your thin rice noodles and allow it to finish cooking, steeping in the broth, which also contains scallions, cilantro, a bit of lime juice, onions and an assortment of herbs and spices. Some people like to put mint leaves in, like my mom. Or dab the beef with a bit of plum sauce (me) or spicy sriracha (Vronsky). Some like to sprinkle it liberally with mung beans (my sister).
In Vietnamese cooking culture, every restaurant/chef/home cook prepares their own pho broth a bit different to have its own "signature" subtle flavors and so the pho I ate at Nam was different from the pho I grew up with at Pho 75, this tiny little place in northern Virginia that is so tiny, all they serve IS pho! You walk in and there are rows and rows of cafeteria-style tables filled with families diving into huge steaming bowls of pho. How my parents discovered it I have no idea, but we've been going there religiously for over ten years, and I am just pleased as punch that I have finally found a pho place of my own here in NYC.
Back when I was growing up, we had pho almost every Sunday night. We would all be too crazed with all the last minute things that pop Sunday night before the school/work week, and there would be nothing like a steaming hot, nourishing bowl of delicious pho to calm us down and give you a great warm and fuzzy food coma to stave off the Sunday night blues, or insomnia if you are me or my father. [It's truly a curse. We would both would go over all the things we had bearing down on us in the week ahead, be it a big deposition for him or, in my case, the inevitable torture of double swim practices on Monday, with the afternoon being "Monday night races," which still makes me cringe (any other Curl Burke-ers out there with me?).] My mom swears it gave her the life-force to deal with a full house of surly teen-agers, and I think it is a great pre-race/pre sporting event food. Protein and carbs galore in the beef and rice noodles. The broth hydrates you and helps settle your stomach. Viola. Pho truly cures all ills and for the blues, insomnia, a sore throat, or even an unusually long hangover, Nam might just be the right place to search for a cure.