Pot-Au-Pho, New Haven, CT

Swagger and I went out to dinner a little while ago and decided that pho was the way to go. This is a small eatery on the outskirts of New Haven, next door to our favorite Asian grocery. Swagger decided to go for the authentic pho while I chose an appetizer.

The menu selection is small, but modern, focusing mainly on their specialty, the pho, and the service is efficient and friendly. The restaurant itself is very modern, with little digital photo screens at every table showing scenes of generic Asia. Swagger and I counted no less than fifteen as blatant Google Image Search cop-outs.

I went to order two different appetizers, only to be informed that they were all out. Since the restaurant was not booming that evening and since the appetizer was comprised mainly of sliced baguettes, vegetables, and pork, I was taken aback. This happened twice, until I went with an appetizer only described as "pork and green onion cupcakes with creme fraiche." Color me intrigued. A legitimate cupcake? I was excited.To drink, I ordered a jelly tea- a bubble tea with little cubes of jelly to suck up the straw instead of tapioca. It was very sweet and colorful, but I noticed that some of the jelly cubes had a vinegary aftertaste along with a firm and fruity texture. I was not pleased with that, and it sort of dissuaded me from sucking up the cubes, drinking the liquid instead, a plain green tea. Swagger went with some strange preserved citrus fruit in his drink, which was rather interesting and very tangy.The cupcakes came, topped with peanuts and peanut sauce, and the pork and creme fraiche. However, these were no cupcakes, resembling limp, moo shu pancakes in aebleskiver pans. I did like the presentation of the pancake things, though, with the lid on top of the pan to reveal the entree underneath. I guess I'm just easily impressed.What really bothered me was the texture of these, despite it being a very original and different dish. The pork was very tender and slightly chewy, and the flavors mingled well, but the whole appeal of an aebleskiver is the crisp outer shell yielding to the inner fillings. This was mushy and soft, and gave a very feeble shell to hold onto while eating. A lot of the liquid fell out and didn't have anything to soak into. The flavors were fantastic, but I just couldn't see myself ordering this again with the blase texture and soupiness of the dish. Of course, anything can be fixed with sriracha. It took the slightly one-noted flavors of the peanut and creme, which, though delicious, were bland and provided no body to the strength of the pork and yielded to its roasted flavor, and brought it to a mingled, spicy level. If only it made them crispier! If only!The star of the show, as I'd figured, was Swagger's pho. It has in the biggest, deepest bowl we'd ever seen, and even had a chopstick rest cut out of the rim. He's a big guy, and he could barely finish it. There were large pieces of tender beef and meatball, and the broth came with a side of fresh bean sprouts so that one could add them liberally without worrying about them getting mushy. The broth was flavorful, with a nice salty and sweet balance. Lots of anise in the taste. And it was just plentiful, hearty, and delicious. I wish I'd stolen more from him. Next time, I'll definitely trust the restaurant's specialty.My only criticism of the broth was the lack of noodles. It definitely advertised a bounty of starch to go along with all the veggies and meat, and I think with that lack of starch, it was a little thin. There were some noodles, but none that I was able to detect. Again, sriracha fixes everything and made my bites a little thicker.The dessert list was downright paltry. They had a "gelato" and sorbet variety, but when asked if any were house made, I was met with a confused face and a negative reply. Bummer. We still ordered three flavors: lychee, red bean, and green tea.The red bean and green tea flavors were both gelato, but they didn't have the rich creaminess of gelato. They were still delicious, though, with very strong tastes. Red bean was a little musty and less sweet than I'd thought, but had enough creaminess to supplement the flavor. The green tea had a brilliant color and a really intense, but not bitter taste, but seemed as though it had a little freezer burn because I kept getting a lot of ice crystals and hard bits in the ice cream that were definitely not fillings.

The lychee was also very tasty and melted well. It had a wonderful and authentic flavor, but I really wasn't as impressed by the ice cream as I was by the pho itself. And here's my pho mantra for you, readers: If you go, stick to pho. If you stay, sandwiches are two doors away. Seriously. Clark's Deli, do it. A Foodette classic.

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