Afresh, authentic taste of Vietnam

Jo McGarry
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Friday - January 09, 2009
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Bao Nguyen, managing partner at Pho 777

McCully Shopping Center is one of the city’s most diverse dining areas. Of the 21 or so small businesses within the two-story strip mall, there are 13 ethnic restaurants that include Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Hawaiian and Korean cuisine, to name but a few.

Newest on the McCully dining scene, located at the site of the former Brazilian restaurant Tudo de Bom, is Pho 777 - a restaurant specializing in pho and comfort foods from Vietnam. But if on your first trip you go looking for authentic pho, with its rich beef broth and lots of marrowy fat, make sure to ask it to be included with your order.You won’t find this detail on the menu, but managing partner Bao Nguyen believes that many health-conscious diners would rather not have their broth filled with fat, so they offer it on the side.

“We cook the beef bones for six to eight hours to make the broth,” he says,“and then we skim the fat from the top and put it to one side.”

So if you’ve dined at the restaurant recently and enjoyed the food but found the pho a little on the lean side, that might be why.

Pho with tendon and tripe and flank-steak slices

“We think that a lot of people want to eat more healthy, so we take the fat out of the pho,” says Nguyen. “But if people want it, it comes on the side.”

Not being a fan of fat-free foods in any form, I ordered the fat on the side. It comes in a small soup bowl as accompaniment to any of the pho dishes. Once you get over the fact that you’re adding a greasy element to your stock, it tastes really good. We had the pho with tendon and tripe and well-done flank steak slices, but there are a dozen or so variations to choose from. You can ask for rare meat if you like - it’s probably a good idea, as the beef will cook further in the hot broth. Without the fat, the broth is fairly well-flavored, but there’s no doubt that the addition of a large portion of beef stock really adds to the richness of the soup.

“This is the way that we eat the soup in Vietnam,” says Nguyen, “but we wanted to give people the option.”

When it comes to pho, personal preference prevails - and Nguyen is well-aware of the fact that many people have their own idea of how pho is supposed to taste.

“Some people like the salt, others don’t like it too salty. Some like the fat, others don’t,” he says.“We try to give the customers the option, and to make the choices healthy for them.”

On the whole, it’s fairly easy to make healthy choices at the restaurant - Vietnamese food is well-known for its artful presentation of herbs and vegetables that accompany most dishes - and here, you’ll find the portions fresh and abundant.

Finest Rice Vermicelli Roll Up on Tray features large platters filled with generous amounts of condiments and offerings like grilled shrimp ($17.45), grilled pork ($17.45) and beef, shrimp and calamari fondue ($21.45).

Equally impressive are the huge plates of cold vermicelli noodles that come with shredded cucumber, chopped mint leaves, fresh bean sprouts, crushed peanuts and the house special sauce for dipping. Vermicelli toppings include excellent crispy spring rolls ($8.45), barbecued prawns ($16.95), sauted chicken ($8.95), shredded pork, spring rolls and barbecue pork ($9.75) and mixed vegetable and tofu ($8.99).

Other Vietnamese staples include vermicelli noodles in hot broth and a selection of appetizers that include fresh summer rolls ($5.75 for two), vegetarian rolls ($5.75) and crispy spring rolls ($8.75 for six).

Fresh summer rolls are plump with generous amountsof fillings

Bao has assembled a pleasant and cheerful waitstaff - most of them know the menu well and can help with recommendations. And in the kitchen, Nguyen’s aunt is in charge of keeping the food authentic.

“We think that the reason so many people like the pho is because of my auntie’s broth,” he says.

The location at McCully gives Pho 777 one of the brightest and most spacious locations of any Vietnamese restaurant in Honolulu. And with white linen tablecloths and muted colors on the wall, the restaurant has a comfortable ambience and a finer-dining appeal than most of its competitors.

Pho 777
McCully Shopping Center
1960 Kapiolani Blvd.
second floor
open daily 10 a.m.-midnight

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