Casper Food Critic- Pho Saigon Isn’t Faux Oriental
With extreme trepidation I approached the building. I had heard good things, but how good could it be? Previous eateries in the same building had at best, left me in want, and screaming toward the door at worst. With my bravest foot forward, I entered Pho Saigon at the corner of Beverly and 12th Street in Casper.
Expecting to see dark and dank, I was pleasantly surprised to see a very bright and new interior. While small, it is laid out well enough to accommodate a moderate lunch rush and not force me to sit on another patrons lap while he sips his drink. There is nothing worse than hearing the most intimate details of a stranger while he slurps noodles. That said, it is really built for a lunch or informal dinner. I cannot see this being a destination for pre-prom dining, or before wedding rehearsals.
We were met by a nice young man who quickly sat us and got us situated with drinks and menus. My dining partner and I were both a little taken by the prices on the menu. Our usual lunch locations could feed a small army for what a single dish at “The Pho” costs. However, being fed full of cardboard is never very appealing, no matter how cheap. Being the adventurers we are, we dove in, forks at the ready.
Not being accustomed to the food style or menu, we absolutely destroyed the pronunciation of each dish in what I am sure is normally a beautiful language. The young server laughed and gave us a quick lesson in proper word structure and letter sound. While I retained absolutely none of it, it was still a nice gesture.
Once our orders were placed and the server was gone, we began to discuss how far Casper has come. Not so many years ago, the thought of a Vietnam oriented restaurant would have sent shock waves through the community. As a lifelong Casper Resident, I remember the gall and rumor that accompanied the first restaurant in this town that did not serve the stereotypical “Chinese food”. I can remember folks walking in and asking for the menu with steaks on it. Yet here we are years later, and a new ethnic restaurant ventures into town with nary a mention among the socialites.
We had just begun to delve into the ethnocentrism that is so common in our small town when our food arrived. A quick look at the watch showed an impressive time, worthy of any major chain restaurant. “Surely, no GOOD food could be prepared this quickly” I said aloud. My dining companion just rolled his eyes and started eating. But not before firing back with, “Don’t call me Shirley”. I had walked into that one I guess.
I found that I had also walked into a marvelous dish. Portion size was generous, but not gluttonous. Presentation was simple, but effective, and the taste was shockingly good. My meal included small bits of chicken and noodles, coupled with rice and a dipping sauce. My companion’s dish was a pile of noodles, with sauce, meat, and other goodies, all amalgamated together.
My entrée came with a watery dipping liquid. At first, it appeared to be a simple vegetable broth or run of the mill chicken stock. One taste and the sauce revealed it’s true self, a tangy sweet that complimented the chicken very well. Try as I might, I couldn’t place the flavor. Shocking as it may seem, it didn’t appear to come from the frozen food section of any local grocer. Dare I say, this tasted homemade. . . . . . . A truly unique flavor that this eater has never tasted.
The dishes had it all; taste, appearance, and texture, married together in a little place called Pho Saigon. And suddenly, the cost of the dish didn’t seem so out of line.