Pho From Home: Ngoc Suong
Photos by Kristy Yang
After a positive dining experience at the Super H Mart last week, I asked my mother if she was up for joining me on one more food expedition before she leaves town. She said yes, but any early excitement she held for Grimaldi's pizza or Rise No. 1 baguettes soon dissipated when I told her I had to try "this place in Garland."
She perked up, however, when I told her the name of the restaurant we would be visiting, Ngoc Suong. Ngoc Suong shares the same moniker as her favorite go-to eatery in Vietnam. I told her to pipe down because obviously it wasn't the same owner and the last thing I needed was her bloated expectations.
After previous posts of lukewarm experiences in Garland, City of Ate reader Webra1 suggested I try a restaurant at which she and her husband recently enjoyed a meal. While initially hesitant, it took only one mouse click to assuage my doubts. Webra1, who might be my pig-loving kindred spirit, had posted online pictures of her porktastic meal at Ngoc Suong. I had never seen a bowl of Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio, grilled pork and eggrolls with vermicelli noodles, as plentiful and bountiful as the one staring back at me from my computer monitor.
The fairly new Ngoc Suong sits across the street from Pho Bang and Saigon Kitchen, on the corner of Jupiter and Walnut. Walking in, the still sleek, spotless, and empty restaurant, along with their friendly staff, permeates with a desire to please.
Bun Thit Nuong
Because Webra1's pictures were so convincing, I decide to nearly duplicate her order. We start with Bo Bia, the Chinese sausage spring rolls, share a Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio, and try something we rarely ever see at Vietnamese restaurants in DFW, the Bun Cha Hanoi. Out of curiosity, I add a bowl of Pho Tai to the order.
Bun Cha Hanoi is a beloved dish so popular, it received a shout out from Anthony Bourdain on his Travel Network show No Reservations, episode PRAGUE! Bun Cha Hanoi's cousin, Bun Cha Ca was mentioned as one of the "must eat meals before you die" on MSN.com. I've had the utmost fortune of eating Bun Cha and Bun Cha Ca while visiting Hanoi. Bun Cha is the granddaddy of the southern Vietnamese Bun Thit Nuong, arguably the second most popular dish in Vietnamese restaurants in the U.S. Bun Cha, however, takes all the components of a Bun Thit Nuong, the pork, the noodles, the vegetables, and serves it up separately, so that the eater compiles his/her own bowls. Obviously, the meat bears the main burden in this dish, but because everything is presented separately, all ingredients have its share in the failure or success of Bun Cha.
And Ngoc Suong comes close to succeeding perfectly. The pork, dare I say, is some of the best grilled meat I have ever had in any Vietnamese restaurant. It's a difficult task to silence my mom when eating at a Vietnamese restaurant, but this meat did it. As she chewed in happy silence, marveling at the overly generous portions, I snapped pictures of the beautiful greens accompanying the Bun Cha. There's no way to describe it more perfectly than that of the mumblings of my mother:
"The vegetables are so fresh. Oh, wow."
This is something to note, seeing as how the prices at Ngoc Suong are fair, and many Vietnamese restaurants save money by skimping on vegetables.Vegetables are an integral staple of Vietnamese cuisine, so it is a major disservice when Vietnamese restaurants cheat anyone of that. The only missteps with Ngoc Suong's Bun Cha are the vermicelli noodles and the fish sauce. Ngoc Suong uses a thicker bun, or vermicelli, in both its Bun Cha and Bun Thit Nuong, when typically in a "dry" noodle dish, the thinner version is preferred to soak up the fish sauce. Speaking of fish sauce, not only was it more sugary than fishy, but there was an obvious lack of it.
The picturesque Bo Bia
As for the rest of the meal, the Bo Bia are surprisingly delightful, stuffed with fresh veggies, fatty Chinese sausage and crispy stir-fried dichon. Webra1's Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio picture justified the monstrous sized bowl that arrived at our table, brimming with the delicious grilled pork, crispy fried springroll, and greens. Again, the only gripe with this dish was the thick vermicelli noodles that were a bit undercooked. Al dente vermicelli is not a good thing. The pho, to be completely honest, really disappointed me. I wanted to like it, but like the fish sauce, it was overbearingly sweet.
Topping off the dining experience, every meal at Ngoc Suong ends with a complimentary bowl of Dou Hua, a dessert made of silky tofu and ginger syrup. This touch of earnest generosity officially leveled the cynic in my mom and me, as we gratefully slurped away.
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