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Pot de Pho

Phancy Pho in the Inner Richmond

Borrowing its moniker from the French dish, pot-au-feu, Vietnamese restaurant, Pot de Pho takes over the former Spanish Fly on Geary Boulevard and provides a more upscale setting for Vietnam’s favorite street food, the brothy noodle soup pho (pronounce “fuh”). This means that instead of the typical utilitarian Formica furnishings of your traditional pho joint, at Pot de Pho you’ll find a casual and tasteful setting with white napkins, dark teak, and rows of fresh orchids.

Formerly of Ana Mandara, acclaimed Chef Khai Duong creates a minimal menu, reflecting choice traditional Vietnamese dishes with stateside twists. Not only does Duong offer a hard-to-come-by vegan pho, but amidst the various traditional salads and rice-noodle bowls, you’ll find only the highest-level ingredients. This means no msg, organics where possible, and fresh, house-made rice noodles -- Duong even uses Kobe beef bones in his beef stock.

During our first visit, a rainy afternoon when pho offered the perfect antidote, the restaurant seemed a bit quiet, though as our meal progressed, the restaurant slowly became a bit more bustling. We ordered green papaya salad ($7), spring rolls ($5), a bowl of beef pho (pho bo, $9), and a bowl of chicken pho (pho ga, $9).

The green papaya salad was decent -- its julienned bits of crispy papaya were garnished nicely by thinly sliced shrimp and a sweet chili-infused fish sauce dressing. But we’d had better -- at lunch at Ana Mandara, no less -- and we thought the papaya slices could’ve been finer, and the dressing could’ve used more flavor -- especially chili. By contrast, the spring rolls were crisp and fresh, a dish further enhanced by the quality of Pot de Pho’s ingredients.

As regular pho eaters, our party has stringent criteria when it comes to pho. Though we’ve heard raves about plain-Jane Bay Area versions of “Hanoi-style” pho, we typically prefer “Saigon-style” pho, which comes served with a side plate of bean sprouts, fresh basil, cilantro, hot peppers, lime and the option of Sriracha chili sauce and hoisin sauce so diners can doctor their pho to taste.

We also agree that pho should arrive at the table piping hot -- necessary if only because the broth needs to cook those thin, rare slices of beef that are at the heart of this soup, staying warm through to the last spoonful. The clear broth should also be infused with the rich flavors of beef bones, and accents of cloves, star aniseed, and lemongrass. The longer the broth is cooked, the richer, deeper, and more inspired it becomes.

We found that Pot de Pho serves a very fresh, light tasting pho broth, though we thought it wasn’t warm enough and felt it could’ve used further seasoning. We also thought the meager offering of hoisin and chili sauce in its very tiny, though cute, side dish didn’t help diners remedy this issue. On the other hand, the sprouts and chilies were immaculate, and both the beef and chicken were tender and tasty and clearly of the best quality.

During another visit on a weeknight, we found the restaurant a bit busier. Our server was attentive and provided a few recommendations. We decided to try a light meal including the Gan Bò Salad made with spicy beef tendon ($6), Bánh Khoái Mien Trung, a seafood-stuffed version of the rice flour bánh xčo crepe from the Central Region of Vietnam ($10), and classic fresh spring rolls ($5).

When our salad arrived we thought it looked a little sad thanks to blackened romaine lettuce. But the tart and spicy flavors won us over and, again, the beef was incredibly tender. We also found the banh xeo crepe, made with scallops, squid and shrimp, full of flavor and just the right temperature; and the fresh rolls, made with thinly sliced rolls of pork, contained a nice balance of herbs, rice noodles and meat.

Yes, Chef Duong’s dishes were a bit pricier, and maybe smaller, than what would be found at a typical Vietnamese pho dive, but those few dollars more than pay for Pot de Pho’s quality ingredients, gracious service, and its huge upgrade in atmosphere. Though not a destination, Pot de Pho definitely has its merits.

Inner Richmond

Reservations Needed? No.