The best-laid plans of mice and food writers often go awry. When my family got hit with a nasty bug, I had to scrap my plans for a salad-centric column. I don't know how you guys treat a cold, but in my house, salads are not involved. So, in weary acceptance of one of Alaska's three seasons – winter, construction and flu — I went in search of soup. Specifically, pho. Hot and brothy, swimming with noodles, aromatics and strengthening bites of protein, pho was literally the only thing I could imagine eating.
As a pho aficionado (that's fun to say) I was looking to find a new bowl of the broth that cures. My sources pointed to Dimond Pho – a Vietnamese eatery that I had heard of but had never seen, despite driving past its location repeatedly. It's very much on the beaten track – in the Gallo Center, right across from the Costco on Dimond Boulevard – but somehow inconspicuously tucked away. In fact, the mall houses a whole cache of businesses that I was unaware of (including Baskin Robbins for those of you who share my addiction to daiquiri ice sherbet). Once located, my daughters and I headed over for a pho feast.
The dining room is clean and modern with a few elements of older-school eateries – glittery mini-chandeliers, pictures of Vietnamese landscapes and blown-up photos of menu items over the register. We settled into a comfy booth and perused the very long menu. In addition to its namesake, Pho Dimond also offers banh mi sandwiches, roasted duck, Vietnamese macaroni dishes (nui xao bo), as well as a few Thai specialties.
We began by sharing an order of Vietnamese-style egg rolls ($7.49) and fried crispy tofu wraps ($7.99). The egg rolls – not, admittedly, a very adventurous choice – were on point. Tightly rolled, generously stuffed, and with the perfect amount of crunch. A zippy, clear garlic sauce comes alongside but we enjoyed creating some of our own dipping sauces using the impressive array of condiments – soy, chili, fish sauces, chili paste, sambaal and Sriracha – provided at each table.
I was less enthused about the tofu wraps — a dish that I liked in concept more than in execution. A thin skin of tofu is wrapped around a sausage-like filling of shrimp, pork, and egg and then deep-fried. While I loved the ultra-crispy crunch of the tofu, the interior was dry and crumbly. I liked the flavor but the texture seemed off.
Next, the meal's raison d'etre arrived. Soup. Glorious soup. I opted for pho ga (chicken, $10.99), my older daughter chose the pho tai (with rare, eye-of-round steak, $10.99) and my younger daughter went with her favorite – pho bo vien (pho with meatballs, $10.99).
We were uniformly pleased. The broth is rich and meaty with an appetizing clarity and a beguiling hint of star anise or cinnamon (maybe both?) breaking through to our beleaguered sinuses. Ample herbs added freshness. The noodles were tender but firm. Silence reigned at the table broken only by the occasional slurp. My only complaint was a lack of Thai basil on the accompanying plate of garnishes. It's a flavor that I love and it was sadly missed.
I'm not saying the pho cured us (friends, get your flu shots), but we had recovered enough by the following week to venture into the non-soup portions of the menu. It had been a long week so we opted for takeout. When we opened the Styrofoam containers, the aromas were so appetizing that I didn't even bother to re-plate the dishes. We just broke out the chopsticks and rummaged.
We began with com ga xao (lemongrass chicken, $10.99) – a dish that I love with its herbal punch and slow, spicy finish. And while there's no hard evidence that carrots taste better when cut with a flowery edge, I maintain that carrots taste better when cut with a flowery edge.
We also opted for hu tieu xao tom (stir-fried noodles with shrimp, $11.99). This is a gently seasoned, lightly sauced dish that really lets the simple ingredients shine. The peppers, celery and carrots are cooked just enough to coax out their flavors while maintaining their freshness and texture. The shrimp are sweet and plump. My daughter enjoyed the subtle flavors of this dish while I enjoyed punching it up with hot sauce and a squeeze or two of lime.
My favorite dish of the evening was the bun dao hu xao (tofu vermicelli salad, $10.99). At first glance, this looked like a straightforward stir-fry. A generous heap of crisply fried cubes of tofu and thick slices of caramelized onions bedded down on a blanket of rice noodles. But once your chopsticks start excavating, you find a hidden layer of crisp lettuce, sprigs of mint and cilantro and an assertive pungent green that I think might be celery leaves. Chopped peanuts added a savory element and a bit of crunch. Every bite is fragrant, fresh and well-balanced by a bright acidic dressing with a salty, limey finish. Light, yet satisfying, I could eat this dish every day.
Pho Dimond's steamy, nourishing bowls of soup helped me fight this season's plague. And their light, aromatic stir-fries served up the promise of spring. In other words, Pho Dimond was there for me in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. You guys, I think we might be in love.
Pho Dimond Restaurant
Hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun.
Location: 135 W. Dimond Blvd., Suite #106
Contact: 907-929-7979, phodimond.com