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Friday, August 22, 2008

.: Baltimore Pho :.

Baltimore Pho on Urbanspoon
warning: long post.
i've been trying very hard to like this local pseudo Vietnamese restaurant, Baltimore Pho, as evidenced by my visiting them 3 times this week!

i love that it's local, as in i could walk there from my condo. having bought my place over 2 years ago on the west side of the city, some thought i was crazy with a death wish. my block is beautiful, i love Franklin Square but i can see how some people are a bit leery of the westside. i used to take the bus into the city for work and there were some days i was slightly scared on Baltimore St but for the most part, people are friendly. but that is neither here nor there.

my friend Shawn sent me a link last week for Baltimore Pho and i was immediately psyched. i've been frequenting Pho #1 for over two years now (i almost cried when i first discovered it and for my vietnamese fix, i'll still be showing up at this joint as often as i can.)

as noted earlier, i've been to Baltimore Pho 3x already so i will just chronicle each dish i've had.

Saturday, jab and i went. they had fried prawn chips to nibble on. which is a nice touch but dipped in nuouc mam? whatever, i still dug in. i let jab pick the appetizer and he opted for the safe egg rolls, cha gio. at a price of $7 i was expecting to have some crazy crab meat in it but no dice. it was crispy and hot but nothing special and the meat on the inside was kinda ... soft, didn't really hold up very well. the garnish plate had sliced apples. i chose to order the ca kho to (caramelized fish stew) and a side of eggplant in garlic, while jab went with the bbq chicken. he liked his selection. the eggplant was good, slightly different from how my mom makes it but it's definitely got potential. the ca kho was a disappointment. it came out soupy, not much caramel in color (which should be almost burnt brown and thick) and i don't know what fish they used but it was not regular ca kho fish. there were no bones (which while annoying to fish out, is a requirement) and had a slightly sour aftertaste to it. the best part of dinner was dessert. Naturally, i chose Flan for Lan. total cost for dinner and drinks (and one of the water glasses was chipped) and tip: $75. a bit steep for not that great of a meal. but the staff was friendly and attentive, the decor reflecting baltimore (exposed bricks and tin ceilings and old prints of old school Hollins Market) and some vietnamese culture with rice paddy hats, red lamps and 3 wise men statues. however, to compare, jab paid the tab for a recent dinner at Pho #1 for 5 people and that tab came out to $60 and the food was superb.

Wednesday, the roommate and i went for happy hour. they advertised drink specials with complimentary appetizers. we did not see any apps but the drinks were good (pomegranate mojito and white chocolate martini). we ended up ordering some dinner. we started off with the goi cuon which was ok, but not $7 ok. the fish cakes were a bit on the thin side and i thought chewy and tough. (i do wear braces tho so to be fair, my teeth don't work as well as they used to). we decided to go all out and get the bo luc lac and the menu translates it as cubed beef in garlic. which is exactly what was served. it was not served on a bed of lettuce or watercress and did not have a touch of vinegar dressing or even any carmelized onions dancing around the plate. so to me, that's not bo luc lac. and the beef was not cooked medium, it was more well done and tough. at $14 a plate, i was expecting more and i got much less. furthermore, the servings? piddly. dessert once again saved the meal. i almost went for the flan for Lan again but instead got the chocolate cake that was gynormous and decadent. (not very vientamese tho and is it really Baltimore-ian?) crystal got the fried ice cream that was good too.

Thursday, crystal went for her interview at the restaurant. afterwards i met up with her for drinks. i needed a drink, i had discovered a dead mouse in my kitchen and i wasn't able to go into the room to make my espresso semifreddo. crystal just wanted to take advantage of the Ladies' Night drink specials of $4. the bartender/she-seems-to-do-everything was training and suggested the 800 which is like a lychee vodka martini. i went with the lemon drop martini (which somehow ended up with the shots instead) and crystal got a gin/tonic. we also split a bowl of pho. the drinks were good, for $4. the bowl of pho for $10, not so good. the serving, was, dare i say it? stingy with a rather bland broth (altho i'm sure for the american palate, just fine). we skipped dessert this time around.

i know that this review seems to really bash Baltimore Pho. i just think as a vietnamese person with certain standards, this establishment just does not meet them. i get that it's supposed to be a fusion of baltimore and vietnamese cuisine. i get that the decor highlights both cultures. i get that it's supposed to be a more elegant restaurant with the slightly higher prices. but the thing is, Pho is not an elegant dish. it's the type of dish that requires lots of napkins, huge amounts of steam and noodles, loads of dipping sauce and bold flavors that you can tenuously balance out with the accompanying herbs. i did not get that chance last night.

i will still support this place, i want it to do well, for selfish reasons. if they do well that means the neighborhood is doing well. plus, finally a bar that i can walk to (but will have to take a cab home... it's all about safety.) there's room for improvement and hopefully they'll add more baltimore flair to the menu and make all the vietnamese dishes more authentic.

to read more reviews of Baltimore Pho:
Metro Mix: Get Served
Baltimore Sun: Baltimore Pho lights up Hollins Market area
Baltimore City Paper: About Pho-ing Time
Dining Dish

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