There are two reasons to visit Viet Bangkok Thai on St John Street and they both hail from Vietnam.
1. The authentic Pho.
2. The trippy, giant lobster mounted to the wall.
I’ll take them one at a time.
The Pho: Viet Bangkok serves a pleasant version of this classic noodle soup. Laced with roasted ginger, anise and freshly chopped scallions and cilantro, the restaurant nailed the “musts” of this Southeast Asian stable. Thin rice noodles were velvety and fresh – easy to wind around chopsticks and slurp up into our awaiting mouths. Aromatic steam billowed and curled from the light, sesame-oiled broth.
Two juicy lime slices (thank God!), a handful of cool, crisp bean sprouts, a few sprigs of Asian basil and a pile of fresh chiles waited on a side plate for our measured addition. The result – an earthy “green” flavor that epitomized tasty Pho.
Where the dish faltered a bit was with the beef. Most traditional Pho requires that rare meat slip into a hot broth for a flash boil. Our Viet Bangkok beef was pre-cooked, a tad tough, and clumped in the middle of the bowl in a huddled mass. We had to pry it apart. Not any easy feat with chopsticks.
While the Pho didn’t quite pass our strict “San Francisco” test, it was good — and a lovely surprise here in Maine.
The Lobster: Three feet long with flashing eyes that blink while you eat – what’s not to love?! The fake lobster was just the sort of wacky Asian-restaurant kitsch that makes me giggle. Our waitress confirmed that the mounted masterpiece is a native of Vietnam. Beyond that, she had no more insights. Pity.
As for the rest of our meal? Mixed results.
I was disappointed in a Basil Roll starter. Adam kinda liked it. As thick as an Italian salami, the roll featured scarce chunks of pork, scant bits of cucumber and rare sprigs of basil hiding amongst vast amounts of fridge-flavored lettuce. Not a homerun.
A Tom Kha soup pleased us both with tender chicken floating in a rich coconut milk, a zingy balance of sweet and sour flavors, and fresh onions, mushrooms and galingale (a root related to ginger).
The night’s big fail was a massive bowl of Duck Masaman Curry. An overly heavy sauce drowned hapless potatoes, onions and bell peppers in a dense morass. Not one hint of spiciness managed to burst through the gloppy stuff, which was more like a burnt brown sauce than a curry. The duck itself resembled shoe leather — in both consistency and taste. Truly unappetizing.
So, my advice? Stay away from the curry and go for the Pho.
Blogger’s Note: This post is the second in a series of Thai restaurant reviews being conducted — and posted on the same day — by a group of Portland bloggers and writers. For other reviews, check out Portland Food Map.