When Hai Le arrived in the United States at the age of 20, he brought with him many memories of the restaurant his mother had in Vietnam for almost three decades. Six months ago, he brought those memories back to life when he opened Pho Kim’s at the corner of Bryan and Fitzhugh.
“I didn’t think people here knew what Vietnamese food really tastes like,” says Le, referring to the common local practice of mixing different kinds of Asian foods and spices — Chinese, Thai, etc. “This is Vietnamese food.”
Popular items on the menu include the beef noodle soup and the imperial roll, which is similar to a spring roll. Daily specials include a variety of “hot pots” and treats such as green mussels in black bean sauce, a generous serving beautifully spiced and served with rice — so order these as a meal rather than an appetizer unless you’re dining with several mollusk-loving friends.
The setting is casual (BYOB) but pristine — lots of light with washed pink walls and silk flowers. For information or to check on the specials, call 214-821-1125.
What About Wine?
They’re the white wines that don’t get much attention, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth a bottle or two. The riesling and gewürztraminer grapes produce distinctive wines that go well with a surprising number of dishes — or as an aperitif before dinner.
“What almost people don’t know is that they run the gamut form bone dry to off dry to sweet,” says Peter Forbes, the wine director for Centennial Liquor Stores. “And they can be light and fruity or a little spicier.”
Outstanding riesling and gewürztraminer wines (which should be served well chilled) can just as easily come from the Pacific Northwest as Germany, where the wines have been popular for centuries. Consider these suggestions:
• Hogue Johannesburg Riesling 1998 ($6). Another outstanding value from the respected Washington state producer. Slightly sweet, it’s a fine choice with Vietnamese food.
• Hugel Gewürztraminer 1997 ($17). Try this slightly dry Alsatian wine with pasta with herbs and vegetables.
• Dr. Thanisch Riesling Kabinett 1997 ($27). An excellent example of a top-notch German riesling that is much drier that the usual sort of sweet rieslings Americans are used to. Goes well with roast turkey or chicken.
The Vietnamese use edible rice paper (banh trang) as the wrapping for their traditional rolls, which are similar to spring rolls. In the preparation of fresh rolls, such as the ones served at Pho Kim’s, the paper is simply softened and wrapped around cooked shrimp and pork or chicken, rice noodles, lettuce and herbs.
You may find it easier to locate some of the below ingredients at an Asian market. The spring rolls pictured above are accompanied by fried quail with green onion and butter, marinated with Pho Kim’s special chef sauce, and a bottle of Fess Parker Johannesburg Riesling.
2 oz. rice noodles
8 to 12 medium fresh shrimp
12 ounces boneless pork loin or 12 ounces boneless chicken breast
1 cup shredded lettuce
1 teaspoon sugar
8 12-inch rounds edible rice paper (banh trang)
1/4 cup mint leaves
16 chive sprigs, trimmed to six-inch lengths
16 to 24 cilantro leaves
Fish sauce (nuoc cham)
Finely chopped roasted peanuts
Soak the noodles in warm water for 20 minutes. Drain. Boil the shrimp for three minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water, shell and cut in half lengthwise. Cook pork loin or chicken breast in boiling salted water for 20 minutes. Rinse under cold water and mince. Combine lettuce and sugar in bowl. Set aside 10 minutes. Moisten two rounds of rice paper at a time by spritzing with warm water and rubbing with your hand. Allow to stand on flat surface until softened. Place shredded lettuce over bottom third of each rice paper. Top with a tablespoon of noodles, a few pieces minced pork or chicken, and several mint leaves. Roll the paper up halfway into a cylinder. Fold the sides of the paper inward. Place two to three shrimp halves, cut side down, along crease. Tuck two chive sprigs under shrimp, so that about an inch will extend out of one end of the roll. Place two to three cilantro leaves next to the shrimp. Finish rolling the paper into a cylinder. Place completed roll on a plate covered with a damp towel while filling remaining wrappers. Serve with nuoc cham sauce sprinkled with peanuts.
Nuoc Cham Sauce
Pureé two cloves garlic, one seeded red chile and a tablespoon of sugar in a food processor or blender. Add two tablespoons lime juice, 1/4 cup fish sauce (nuoc mam) and 1/4 cup rice vinegar, blending well.