Wok-fry cashew chicken ($17.95) turned out to be a rather ordinary Chinese-style stir-fry, though it had some authentic items, such as lotus seeds, tucked among the boneless chicken slices, cashews, and a lot of bell peppers. Moo shu crispy duck wraps ($24) attempted the flavors of Peking duck, with the added thrill that the vegetables — mostly cabbage — were stewed in a light curry. But the duck pieces were fried too crisp and lost their flavor, the wrapper pancakes were too thick as well, and the bean sauce was not as vivid as real hoisin (and would have clashed with the curry if it had been). A side dish of chilled peapods with sesame soy sauce ($6) was just that. Oyster sauce sticks better.
Pho Republique has a variety of exotic rum drinks, a short wine list, and some Asian beers. Tea ($3.50) is served loose-leaf in a real teapot. For dessert we reverted to Asian traditionalism, since there were only two options: mochi ice cream in three flavors ($5) and fried banana dumplings ($8). The latter were somewhat stodgy, almost like plantains. The former is the familiar concoction of fine ice cream encased in sticky, pounded rice that could be used for self-seal auto tires. Having to work through the mochi layer makes one savor the ice cream, especially the vivid green-tea flavor and the above-average chocolate.
The room was one of the first large spaces on what is now a restaurant row on Washington Street. The rough finish, including distressed wood tables, gives a feel of the Third World in colonial times, but the eclectic décor scatters the attention. It’s as if Trader Vic went to Pier 1 and picked out some random things, with some real antiques thrown in. The background sound, which is not obtrusive, left mostly techno impressions. Some of it might be Asian, though it isn’t the folk music or deliberately exotic sounds one hears in immigrant restaurants catering to lo fan.
Service on the early side was quite good (popular food always cheers up a staff). On one night I dined, the eclectic menu made Pho Republique a meeting place for several generations. With its late hours, Pho Republique moves to a drinks-and-snacks crowd over the course of the evening. If you grew up on spareribs and egg rolls, you’re okay here. If your generation was more about pad Thai and sushi, you’re also okay. And great chicken soup is timeless. It all works to give us a brush of the exotic without the political complexities.
Robert Nadeau can be reached atRobtNadeau@aol.com.