Food Feature: Simmering

Newcomer Pho Hien's specialty soups a slurp beyond noodles and broth

You are not going to believe this, but there is a new pho shop in town and it is not located on Buford Highway. Strange, I know, but true. Pho Hien Vietnamese Noodle Shop is tucked among the burger joints, pizza shops and sports bars along Jimmy Carter Boulevard, in a tiny strip shopping center called Asian Village.
And what a great addition to the area it is, a cheerful shop so sunny and pretty in a cafe kind of way. The color scheme is emerald and cream, with sedate green-and-white striped wallpaper below the chair rail and pale yellow walls above. Sconces are filled to overflowing with faux floral arrangements.
Pho Hien may be simmering the best beef and shrimp pho in the metro area. The broth itself is simply beautiful, a clear but deeply colored liquid. And fragrant. This is fragrance that comes not from the small oval platter of Oriental mint and lime but from the steaming bowl of soup itself. (If bean sprouts have an odor to commend them, I have never been exposed to it.)
Obviously, it is important that pho have a full-bodied broth; that is the point of it. But at other pho shops, that is generally all there is. The quality of the meat employed is usually such that one is left to marvel at what can be done with lesser cuts. But at Pho Hien, the meat is beautiful. The rare steak, especially, is a sight to behold.
So far, I am somewhat less enamored of Pho Hien's chicken pho. The broth looks and tastes less concentrated than the beef pho broth. And the slices of chicken meat are too pretty. At first glance I thought chicken roll was being used, so uniformly neat were the broad slices. Perhaps it is the pronounced thickness of the slices that threw me off. But one taste told me I was dealing with actual chicken, although not as flavorful as chicken ought to be. Even so, the dish is so fresh, I hate to find fault with it. Since Pho Hien is so new, I am expecting everything to improve with time.
All is not perfect in pho land, however. I regret to report that Pho Hien has no separate non-smoking section. Since the place is always busy with chain-smoking Vietnamese men, the small restaurant is very, very smoky. The only way to get around this is to order take-out, an interesting process in itself. The kitchen will deliver your meal to the counter in two parts: A container of gorgeous golden-brown broth and a compartmentalized box filled with rice noodles, pho condiments (including half a lime) and whatever meat you have chosen.
Although the noodles will have glued themselves together by the time you get them home, and you'll have to re-heat everything in a saucepan to separate them, this small amount of work is certainly preferable to going without Pho Hien's miraculous brew altogether. And your car will smell great the rest of the day.

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