Side Dish: Pho with a twist

| January 02, 2013

New pho-nomenon

You may have noticed a number of new Vietnamese pho restaurants springing up around town recently, confirming somewhat of a pho-boom that long ago swept major East and West Coast cities.

But co-owner Ken Nguyen of Pho-nomenal (5825 Stetson Hills Blvd., #100, phonomenalrestaurant.com) maintains that his place will be different from all the others when it opens around February.

"Over the past year we've traveled around the country exploring restaurants," he says, adding that he's done reconnaissance in Vietnam, too. "We do focus on a number of traditional Vietnamese dishes, but we've upped it with more of a modern-type cooking we've learned."

Nguyen and his wife Kim also draw experience and inspiration from their respective families' outfits, Pho 888 in Aurora and Pho-natic in Denver. The latter, says Nguyen, dishes roughly 300 bowls of pho during a typical lunch, which speaks to the kind of stock volumes that must be seasoned and prepared well in advance.

It's that type of meticulous attention that Nguyen points to when discussing how he believes his pho is unique. Part of the process is about not overwhelming the broth with any one spice like clove or cinnamon, and knowing just how much of the "fatty water" (the oily top, where fat rises) to ladle in with the clearer broth for the right concentration of textures and flavors. Also how little MSG he can get away with in the beef, chicken and vegetarian stocks.

Overall, Nguyen says his pared-down menu focuses on simplicity and freshness: "We don't want to just be another pho restaurant in town."

Cod and curry

Spice Island Grill (10 N. Sierra Madre St., spiceislandgrill.com) has added a tiny retail market to its restaurant, selling imports like: wild-caught salted cod ($8.99/pound); ackee fruit ($12.99/12-ounce can); and world-renowned Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee ($45/pound). Owner Claudette Hutchinson says she soon may add more retail items, and fresh juices to her menu.

À la carte

• The Broadmoor (1 Lake Ave., broadmoor.com) will host Pinot Posse VIII Sunday, Jan. 13, at the Summit. Seats are $125 plus tax/tip. Its 11th annual Salute to Escoffier is slated for Feb. 8 and 9, featuring tastings, seminars and an epic grand buffet. Visit the website for prices and package deals and our IndyBlog for recent recaps of each event.

• The seventh annual Glass Slipper Ball (glassslipperball.com), benefitting local women's advocacy groups and featuring an always-amusing chef's competition, will take place from 7 p.m. to midnight, Saturday, Jan. 26; tickets are $100.

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