Feast to West, Part V: Niagara Seafood
blog by BuffaloDotCom • November 25, 2011 @ 8:03pm
Sifting through Twitter on a regular basis can shed light on the food cravings of Buffalonians, and surprisingly, pho has popped up more than expected. While Director Michael, Kathryn and Ben T. had a hint of what pho entailed—Michael more so than the others—it turned out we were all pronouncing it incorrectly.
Yes, it’s said “faw” with a delicate touch of an “L” at the end—but not as sharp as you’d say “crawl.” Hey, we’re really far from fluent in Vietnamese too, but at least you won’t be caught blubbering about “foe” like Ben T. was.
According to Mike Nguyen, who opened Niagara Seafood in January of this year—the destination of the hungry Buffalo.comers, the creation of pho (featured photo at top) is an involved process. Described simply, it’s Vietnamese noodle soup with chunks of meat, but it’s the broth that makes the dish more complex.
“We don’t use a paste,” Nguyen said. “We cook the broth with meat bone in a 60 liter pot, and we must [attend] to it—we can’t just leave the bone in [the whole time].” Niagara Seafood’s owner added that it takes roughly one day to create flawless pho.
After a little research, we discovered that the bone’s marrow plays a vital role in the taste of the broth—Nguyen notes that the marrow adds sweetness—and that timing is everything in the cooking process. Pho, which runs $5.99 for a regular and $7.49 for a large (which you won’t be able to finish), is much more intricate than we thought.
As for the beef in the pho, Nguyen sees a clear advantage for Niagara Seafood. Nguyen’s father owns the Asian grocery store, A’Chau, on the other side of the Rhode Island/Niagara St. intersection, and the younger Nguyen—who worked for his dad for six years—uses the top 10 percent of the beef for his restaurant.
Interestingly, Nguyen mentioned that some customers request raw beef for their pho. On the same note, though, if you haven’t specially requested raw beef, a cloudy broth is a sign of bad pho—keep that in mind as you prepare for your next jaunt to a Vietnamese restaurant.
A plate of bean sprouts and basil is served on the side, often used as a garnish in order to add crunch to the soup. The dish isn’t bad for the diet, either—aside from a rather hearty helping of salt.
“We don’t use any cheese or much fat,” Nguyen said, “and there’s also very little MSG, as [we know our customers] are aware of the health risks of that.”
While Kathryn and Michael enjoyed steaming bowls of pho, Ben T. branched out for banh mi, a Vietnamese sandwich, and three Vietnamese spring rolls.
Served on a freshly baked and fairly crispy Costanzo’s roll—not authentically Vietnamese, but delicious and local nonetheless—the banh mi ($4.49 for an eight inch sandwich) included Vietnamese ham and sausage, homemade butter (more of a mayo) and pate. Cilantro, cucumbers, sliced jalapenos—be careful, they’ll sneak up on you—and green peppers complete the sandwich. While the cold cuts are bit of an acquired taste—Nguyen mentioned that grilled pork is now a replacement option, too—the butter/mayo is superb and the jalapenos lend a pleasant jolt to the experience.
The spring rolls ($4.29 for three) were a great contrast in texture, although not hugely flavorful. A chewy wrap enclosed two large shrimp and a series of fresh vegetables—lettuce, bean sprouts and basil (which is both an herb and a vegetable, we hear). The spring roll trio was served with a peanut-infused hoisin sauce—it was tangy with subtle peanut flavor.
Niagara Seafood also offers myriad fruit drinks—lychee, pomegranate, passion fruit, soursop and guava to name a few—and bubble tea, which wasn’t available when we visited. For those airing on the side of caution, there are Coke products as well.