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A Delicious Harmony of Flavor and Texture
Relief came the moment we entered the dining room; the air-conditioning wasn’t too cold and we were promptly shown to a table. Our Englishspeaking waiter arrived to pour us tall glasses of iced jasmine tea – absolutely delicious! For additional quenching we ordered bottles of 33 Export ($4.50), a very pale, unassuming lager beer from Viet Nam.
The dining room is a long rectangular affair painted in pastel shades of blue and orange. Though the room faces Park Avenue, its wooden shades were drawn low to provide protection from the commotion of the traffic and the glare of the setting sun. We sat below red neon tubing that proclaimed, “Welcome to Pho Dakao.” Tables were covered with glass-over-linen and set with caddies of hot and soy sauces.
We soon made our appetizer decisions and started with Fresh Summer Rolls ($3.50). Shredded lettuce, mint leaves and vermicelli noodles joined slices of medium-sized shrimp inside soft rice paper wrappings. The order of two rolls was served with traditional peanut dipping sauce.
Our appetizer was followed by Mussels Sautéed with Scallions and Ginger ($6.75). Large green mussels in pearlescent shells, tender and totally free of grit, were drenched in a sauce of white onion and scallion strips sautéed until just a remove from crunchy – still firm and fragrant with fresh ginger. We raved over the harmony of flavors and textures!
During the interlude following our appetizers, we couldn’t help but listen in on enthusiastic conversations nearby and got a sense of the everyday drama of life in nail care salons. This entertainment faded into the background as our entrees began to arrive.
From the menu category Bun (vermicelli rice noodles), I had chosen Bun Tom Thit ($6.75). A large bowl of snow-white springy noodles came topped with carefully arranged groups of shredded lettuce, mint leaves, bean sprouts and crushed roasted peanuts. The star attractions were two large grilled shrimp and rich-tasting slices of roasted pork. Ignorant of any etiquette rules I might be breaking, I mixed the ingredients and doused them with the accompanying bowl of mild fish sauce. This was a meal I could sink my plastic chopsticks into for sure!
My guest chose the Beef with Broccoli entrée ($8.95). This was, perhaps, the simplest presentation of the evening. Tender chunks of beef were served in a fragrant sauce amidst an emerald forest of crunchy broccoli. If there are folks out there who don’t like broccoli, trying it at Pho Dakao might just change their minds!
We finished our dining experience with one of Pho Dakao’s two desserts, Chuoi Chien ($4). A large, firm banana had been sliced lengthwise, floured and deep-fried golden brown. Less sweet than bananas I’m accustomed to, it was served drizzled with honey.
If Pho Dakao isn’t already one of Worcester’s favorite ethnic restaurants, it soon will be. Sporting a decent wine and beer list, it serves some of the freshest and healthiest food around. Although definitely a welcome break from the summer heat, I’d recommend Pho Dakao any time of the year.