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September 28, 2010

Alice Eats: Pho Pasteur

38 Main Street, Winooski, 802-497-0289

Pho There may be eight Vietnamese restaurants in the Burlington area, but I still get excited each time a new one opens. I'm always eager to discover new dishes, and I am also perpetually searching for the perfect pho. The one at Pho Pasteur may not be the ideal, but it is a keeper.

The lacquered bowls are pretty at cozy and clean Pho Pasteur, in the space that used to house 38 Main Street Pub. However, the soup is not one of the more attractive ones I've seen. 

Don't let its slightly bare appearance fool you. The broth packs a flavor wallop. The base is richly beefy, but the sweet, meaty notes fade in the face of a strongly aromatic mix of spices. 

As the soup approaches, the cinnamon and cloves are so dominant that it almost smells like hot cider is on the horizon. Anise provides a nice licorice twist. The beef in the bowl arrives still raw in places, but cooks to a delicious brown at the table. The basil, bean sprouts, lime and jalapeño's on the side are fresh and tasty. All-around, one of the best.

Galbi I was delighted to see several dishes I had never tried before, such as a rice dish with Korean short ribs. The mound of grain came with an ample side of nước cham, a wonderfully balanced rendition of the tangy fish-sauce-based condiment that accompanies many Vietnamese dishes. The beef was crisp and lightly charred on the outside, with an interior of sweet and gingery meat and molten fat. The carrots, cucumbers and cilantro on the plate were perfectly fresh, even though it was Sunday evening, not exactly produce prime time.

The stir fried beef with lemongrass and crushed chili peppers is a far cry from the sweet and sour flavors common in the majority of this area's Vietnamese dishes. Bright lemongrass and earthy pepper combine in a surprisingly comforting way. The whole was flavorful enough that I ate the vermicelli without giving it a nước cham bath.

The best part? There are still lots of things I want to try. For example, several unique spring rolls including ones filled with chicken or charbroiled pork meat balls (one of my favorite things). And I have to save room for an avocado smoothie. Luckily, I live nearby!

In early 2008, my wife and I visited our eldest daughter, who was teaching and doing research in the Mekong Delta in the south. We had the opportunity to sample the cuisine in all three regions of Viet Nam: south, north and central. It was a delight: fresh ingredients, wonderful seasonings, etc. And, many of the Vietnamese restaurants in this area are gems, as well.

I regret, however, that the cooking of central Viet Nam appears not to have made any inroads in this area. The cooking there differs discernibly from both south and north. Hue is often referred to as the culinary capital of Viet Nam, and it was the imperial capital for many years. Also, a bit farther south, roughly twenty miles below Da Nang is Hoi An, famous for its tailoring but also a wonderful place for eating. Its local specialty is called Cao lầu, a mixture of thin noodles, vegetables, thin slices of pork and sprouts. It is divine, and reputedly, it is the water from one well in Hoi An that makes it special.

While I will continue to enjoy our present stable of Vietnamese restaurants, I eagerly anticipate the first one that will approximate the wonderful cooking of central Viet Nam. In the meantime, if you want to sample some wonderful food vicariously search the web for the Hai Cafe in Hoi An, a great spot, and check out the menus and recipes associated with the Red Bridge Cooking School. Better yet, visit Viet Nam yourself and dig in! Bon appetit!!!

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