Non-soup entrées run from rice plates to vermicelli bowls, to stir-fried noodles, to shared dishes one might order in a Chinese restaurant, to large fondues for two or more. On one visit we tried the stir-fried noodles with shrimp ($7.25), which was a mild Chinese-style dish with broccoli, red peppers, pea pods, onion, and bamboo shoots. But “boiled spicy seasoned shrimp” ($8.75), which sounded so bad I had to try it, turned out to be an excellent dish of shrimp in a three-star hot sauce with hints of lemongrass and ginger, flavoring vast amounts of fragrant white rice. If you’re not a salad eater and you’re looking for vegetables, look no further than stir-fried Chinese broccoli ($7.95). It’s almost all stem, but makes up for it with a special sweet flavor. The treatment is a mild garlic-soy based sauce.
Now, here’s the rest of the sequence on the seven-course beef. Act II brings a bowl of hot water and a beautiful plate of thin-sliced beef rounds served with limes. It comes on a large plate of lettuce, cress, onions, carrots, cucumbers, rice vermicelli, and mint, with three dips: one based on fish sauce, one on a fermented bean sauce, and the third on a truly deadly (but delicious) chili paste. Then there’s a stack of rice-paper rounds. The idea is to dip the rounds in the water to soften them, and then assemble rolls of raw beef salad. You can also cook the beef in the water, but it really works better raw.
Act III features another plate of raw beef slices, but this time we’re supposed to cook them in vinegar (on a hot plate at the table) before making those same rolls. Act IV — my favorite of the series — brings a frying pan; this time the beef slices are sprinkled with lemongrass and cooked with butter. The butter-fried beef is about the tastiest thing you can make . . . until you try Act V: four rolls of grilled spiced beef wrapped around sautéed onions.
These rolls, however, are part of a large platter with a beef salad (fish-sauce dressing, lots of shredded vegetables) and four lightly spiced meatballs on skewers.
There are no listed desserts, but if you’re looking to sate your sweet tooth you can try the sweetened milkshakes and fruit drinks of Southeast Asia, as well as Vietnamese coffee, hot or iced, with or without condensed milk.
Phò Hóa is a somewhat plain room, though it is located on a corner and has many large windows. Despite this, it isn’t noisy, and the well-spaced tables make it unusually good for conversation. There are a few pieces of wall art and a very nice saltwater aquarium. Other than a drafty front-door set up, it’s perfect. Plus, the servers are very good and offer clear and short explanations of the different types of fondues. You can see why there are now about 100 Phò Hóa locations, including another in Dorchester.
Phò Hóa |17 Beach Street, Boston | Open daily, 9 am–11 pm | AE, DI, MC, VI | No liquor | Validated parking after 5 pm, $3 | Sidewalk-level access | 617.423.3934
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Robert Nadeau: RobtNadeau@aol.com