The Place: Pho Nhu-Y, 3701 Vestal Parkway East, Vestal (in the Campus Plaza, across from Applebee’s)
The Rundown: I have to confess, I’m a total n00b to Asian dishes outside of Japanese and Americanized Chinese, so I’m not qualified to speak as an authority on Vietnamese cuisine. That being said, what I sampled at Pho Nhu-Y definitely made me want to learn more.
Nestled in a small space in the Campus Plaza, Pho Nhu-Y is a pretty basic operation. They have a fairly limited menu, most of which focuses on their namesake dish, Pho. For the uninitiated, Pho is a soup, made with rice noodles in a beef broth, with an assortment of spices, Mung bean sprouts, onion, and a variety of beef cuts. It’s often referred to as “Vietnamese comfort food”, and outside of the spring roll, is probably the best-known Vietnamese dish in America.
The decor of the place is cheery, with pale yellow walls accented with dark red pictures and paraphernalia. A clock in the shape of Vietnam hangs on the wall, and a sign next to it proclaims that they are a cash only operation. You seat yourself at any open one of the eight tables, and wait for the server to come take your order.
After perusing the menu for a bit, I settled on the Cafe Sua Da, a Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk; the Goi Cuon Tom Thit, or “Summer Rolls”, made with shrimp, pork, vermicelli, and lettuce in a rice wrapper; and a bowl of the Pho Bo Vien, or Pho with meatballs.
The coffee came out first. You get two glasses; one with ice, the other with the condensed milk. The glass with condensed milk had a small metal filter on the top. A compartment on the filter holds the coffee grounds, and hot water is poured through it so that the coffee brews right into the glass on the table. After it’s finished, you remove the filter, stir the coffee and condensed milk with a long handled spoon, and pour the mixture over the ice in the second glass. The coffee was very good, with a hint of caramelly sweetness from the condensed milk.
Next were the Summer Rolls. Utterly gorgeous, they were served with a side of soybean sauce, sprinkled with peanuts.
They almost looked too good to eat, but I managed to perservere. And boy, was I glad. Very fresh, with a clean, subtle flavor, and hints of anise and pepper, they were outstanding. The accompanying sauce was surprisingly sweet, and with the peanuts mixed in, it brought to mind peanut butter and jelly. It was very good, and went well with the summer rolls, but I would have gladly eaten them without the sauce; they’re that good on their own.
The Pho came out next. If you’ve never had it before, the “large” descriptor on the menu is not hyperbole. These bowls are huge. I have 24 oz bowls at home; these are easily twice that size, if not more. Filled with steaming hot broth, noodles, spices, and quartered small meatballs, it was served with a side of Mung bean sprouts, sliced fresh chiles, and a couple of small lime wedges.
Unfortunately, I was unable to get a picture of the Pho, as there was more activity in the dining room at this point. But, rest assured, like the Summer Rolls, it too was gorgeous and appealing, with bright colors that signaled the freshness of the ingredients.
The flavor of the dish was superb, with the chiles lending a subtle spiciness. Big bottles of Sriracha and Hoisin sauce are on every table, though, so if you want to add more spice, you can. I like spicy food, myself, but I didn’t think this needed anything added to it at all. It was absolutely wonderful on its own.
The meatballs were like nothing I’ve ever had before. Completely different from a traditional Italian meatball, they were tightly packed and firm, almost crunchy. They, too, were excellent and savory, and were the first thing to disappear from my bowl.
As I sit here typing this almost three hours after my meal, I find myself still stuffed from the Pho, so rest assured, this is food that sticks with you. About the only comment I can make that isn’t glowingly positive is that there aren’t any napkins on the tables, nor do they bring you any with your meal. This seems odd, especially given the fact that soup in general is known as a messy dish (doubly so with noodle soups eaten with chopsticks), and many of the appetizers are meant to be eaten with your hands. I don’t count this as a detraction, though–it’s more of a quirk.