February 12, 2007

Fall River Phở

Apsara Restaurant

Apsara Restaurant

My cousin Bob wanted to visit the Angkor market in Fall River this weekend, so we met up at 10 AM on Saturday and drove over there. As before, checking out the market was an exciting tour of Asian ingredients.

Shopping left us with a hungry feeling, and the hallway of Angkor plaza was filled with a savory scent wafting from the adjoining dining room of Apsara. He suggested we stop for a bowl of soup and I couldn’t argue.

The place was practically empty at 11 AM; the lunch crowd had not yet filtered in. The atmosphere is spartan but clean — it’s the inside of an old mill. We barely noticed the surroundings, however, as we were preoccupied with the exotic aroma in the air.

When Bob saw that the Vietnamese soup “phở” was on the menu, we decided to have that. The sizes were small, regular, large and extra large. In his excitement, Bob ordered two large bowls of rare beef phở with meatballs.

The waiter brought a plate of bean sprouts, sweet basil, chilies, and lime. On the table were Sriracha (aka. “rooster”) sauce and hoisin sauce. You get to adjust the spiciness and some of the ingredients of your soup.

Phở (pronounced somewhere between “far” and “fun” without that last consonant) contains tender, thin, marinated slices of rare beef over a bed of cooked noodles. A piping hot broth cooks the beef on the way to your table. Slices of onion and scallions are floating in the broth along with cilantro leaves. The meatballs are very flavorful and smooth, like skinless sausages. When the bowls came, they were enormous. The regular size would undoubtedly have been plenty of food.

I had no previous experience with this soup, so I could not give you a relative evaluation of this phở compared to other restaurants. I can tell you that I found it a slightly sour and very savory mix of flavors that I am already craving a day later. Bob thought it was the second best phở he’d ever had out of quite a number of versions he’s had.

When I visited Sydney, I found that I was never too far away from an Asian noodle bar and that these made refreshing and nutritious meals (with a good bit of variety as well). At about 5 bucks for a regular sized bowl, and about 6 for the large, phở at Apsara Restaurant is a hot lunch of the type I wish were available all over the place. We were surprised to find this here on Quequechan St, right near where our parents grew up. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to visit southeast Asia in the 16th century. It’s appropriate that a city with so many residents of Portuguese heritage should have such adventures awaiting the hungry traveler.

Posted by James at February 12, 2007 1:54 AM
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Now I feel silly. I never once ordered Pho in all the time I lived in Orlando. They had it at the restaurants, and it was obviously very popular, but I was so hooked on another dish (the so-called "barbecue pork" which wasn't barbecue in the sense that we know it) that I couldn't bring myself to order anything else.

Actually, I did get chicken soup at Little Saigon once, and it was pretty awesome. But never the pho.

Posted by: Julie at February 12, 2007 12:09 PM

I am a pho freak. I used to work down the street from Chinatown in Boston, so I ate pho constantly. Now, being in Kendall Sq., I am far from pho, and it's sad.

I just read up on a new place in Chinatown that apparently has amazing pho, but there aren't many choices for the vegetarian in my dinner group, so I'll have to try another place.

Now I want pho and have little interest in my tortellini. WAH!

Posted by: Patti M. at February 12, 2007 12:43 PM

Patti, I would think that restaurant could make one of their dishes without meat, but I suppose it would really depend on how strict a vegetarian your friend is (like "no meat" shouldn't be a problem, but vegan might because of the fish sauce).

Posted by: Julie at February 12, 2007 12:48 PM

We often do that in some restaurants, but in others where language is a barrier, it's just too hard and unreliable. It is for this reason I can't eat dim sum--because I just can't ever figure out what has pork in it.

There's a great veg. restaurant in Chinatown called "Buddha's Delight" where it may look and taste like meat, but it's not--it's TVP (textured vegetable protein). Amazing and delicious (and cheap!). Maybe we'll head there. I don't think I've gone with a group.

Posted by: Patti M. at February 12, 2007 1:02 PM

I've heard about Buddha's Delight before. I have vegetarian friends who live in that area.

The Vietnamese restaurant people in Orlando all spoke perfect English, so ordering something different wasn't a problem. However, at "the place" to go to for dim sum it was a different story. I don't have a problem with pork, but I do like to know what's inside before I cut into it. She was speaking English - I just couldn't understand her, and there's a limit to how many times I'm willing to ask a person to repeat herself. I had to just take whatever came by on the cart, not knowing what it was or how much it cost, so I ended up with a weird sequence of dessert-rice-meat-unknown-pasty-yam-brown-etc. and a big bill.

I don't mind a few surprises, but this was just way too much suspense for one meal.

Posted by: Julie at February 12, 2007 1:49 PM

Dim sum can be a lot of suspense. I've only had dim sum a couple of times with widely varying bills, and I did enjoy myself but I prefer cheap food if I can get it. I don't know if there is good dim sum locally; I guess I have to start looking!

I had Thai bbq in San Francisco, and it was like a soup with meat on top, different from the phở but yummy. Lots of choices at the Thai bbq.

As for the phở, I hear Pho Pasteur is excellent in Chestnut Hill. I wouldn't know. What I do know is you can get satisfying phở in Fall River, which is a happy thing.

Posted by: James at February 12, 2007 2:16 PM

Good pho is a beautiful thing. Ditto dim sum, although it helps to go with someone who is familiar with all the types of dishes.

Re: pho, I love the rare beef version, but also go for anything with beef tendon in it. The very thought is making me drool even as I type.

Posted by: Ariane at February 13, 2007 1:12 AM

I had a great time Saturday. The market was small but had many items, yeah to frog legs. I forgot I had purchased an instant Pho soup mix from the market. Come to find out, it is EXACTLY what they used to make their Pho. I made some for the kids the next day using and it tasting identical, with the same color. I have had several bowls of Pho, most from Pho Pasteur in Chinatown and Brighton, in California at a small Veitnamese restaurant and at restaurants in Taunton and Somerset. The best is a tie between Cali and Pho Pastuer (both locations.) Taunton and Somerset were pretty bad, this mix was better than both.
We also bought seasoning bags for Pho. I tried that this weekend as well and wasn't impressed. I'll try it again before I render final verdict.

I look forward to our next adventure!!

Posted by: Cousin Bob at February 13, 2007 12:53 PM

Where can you get pho in Taunton?? Tell me tell me tell me!!! Thank you.

Posted by: Julie at February 13, 2007 2:51 PM

ooh, awesome. Pho is great stuff. I miss it. Glad to hear you are getting good stuff in Fall River. Vancouver is an extremely asian place, but somehow, there is no Pho convenient to my part of Downtown just yet. I have to admit, though, that the two things I miss the most are a good chourico, real pizza, and grinders from Marzilli's or Marccucis!

Posted by: Rui at February 15, 2007 1:31 PM

We actually have multiple Pho places. One of them is my favorite lunch haunt. And the regular IS plenty of food. I tried the large once. Once!

Posted by: briwei at February 16, 2007 2:50 PM

Isn't that, like, rice, chicken, and some kind of vegetable? ;-)

Posted by: Julie at February 16, 2007 3:16 PM

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