Monday, December 14, 2009

'Tis the Season for Pho

Bahn Flan from the Hong Xuong Bakery on Argyle Street in Uptown on Chicago's North Side, sold in a handy clear plastic container holding six ounces, is lightly sweet, lightly smooth, and a pleasure to eat. How is such a simple list of ingredients -- flour, eggs, milk, sugar -- whipped into such delight? I don't know. It's enough that it does. Even better, it goes for less than a dollar for each six ounces. We brought 24 ounces home recently and they're all gone already.

Yuriko and I made a rare trip to Argyle Street on Friday, as part of a longer trip into the city, to eat pho for lunch at a place that used to be called Pho Hoa. There's a closer suburban pho shop a few miles south of us, and while it's good enough, the Argyle Street shop (actually in a small strip center about a half block south of Argyle) is special. We used to eat there fairly often in the late '90s, and took Lilly there when she was precisely a month old -- her first visit to a restaurant. She slept in her car seat through most of the visit.

Pho is Vietnamese beef and rice noodle soup, seasoned with the likes of ginger, garlic, star anise, peppercorn and other mysterious flavors. Comes in enormous bowls, makes quite a meal. Smells like heaven. You add additional spices at the table -- mint and lime, for instance, or squeeze in chile or hoisin sauce -- and go at it with long chopsticks and a Chinese-style soup spoon. The variety I usually get includes bible tripe.

Pho Hoa is now called Le's Pho. I don't know when the change was made, since we haven't been there in a couple of years. The menu is now larger than it used to be as well. It used to be pho and pho only, in about two dozen variations. Now the menu includes a number of other Vietnamese dishes. Sometimes changes like that don't bode well for a place, but I'm glad to say that Le's Pho served pho like the old place did: a tasty, steaming blend that fills you right up, is good for what ails you, that kind thing. A valentine to pho can be found here.

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