Ardmore, Pennsylvania 19003
This is the new Ardmore location that opened this week. The original is on Washington Avenue in South Philadelphia.
A new Vietnamese restaurant is always welcome on the Main Line, joining Pho-Ever Yours in Narberth, and the Pho Street Bryn Mawr location. I try to be cautious in judging a place on opening week, but here goes:
Atmosphere is casual, but spartan/elegant enough compared to most in the genre. The staff in the kitchen looked enormous, and due to the lack of publicity, the empty dining room made the contrast a bit sparse. It took a few moments for them to recognize my presence, but once identified, my service was no less than excellent. As a single diner, I was invited to sit wherever I pleased (but being the considerate diner I am, I chose a counter at the window .. despite the rather unpleasant construction view.) I’m sure that at the pace of building these days, that will soon be mitigated. The sheetrock DID cast an odd green hue on my pictures, which I did my best to correct – well, not my BEST, but I did reduce the St. Patrick’s day effect somewhat.
Now to the food. There do not appear to be lunch specials, but the prices were reasonable for the neighborhood. I was immediately brought a glass of ice water and was not pressured to order right away.
I typically choose crispy spring rolls and Bún thịt nướng (vermicelli with charbroiled pork) as my bellwethers, but decided I needed to judge a bahn mi and pho for this occasion. The only bahn mi was thịt nướng. At $7.95, it was par for a Lower Merion sammie, but approximately twice what one would pay in Upper Darby.
First, I decided to try the Vietnamese Iced Coffee with condensed milk and was delighted with the presentation (my own personal drip vessel and a large glass of ice with a long spoon.) I was cautioned (correctly) that it was hot, so I sacrificed the single paper napkin from the place setting next to me for the job.) It was quite delicious. I’m not sure why most Vietnamese places give you a single paper napkin… especially if you are slurping Pho.
As for the bahn mi, we all know that the roll makes or breaks this sammitch. The “baguette” was fresh and chewy but had more in common with a great cheesesteak roll than a light airy Vietnamese baguette. It was lightly warmed, but not toasted, as it should be.
Regarding the fillings, the pork was neither skimpy nor abundant. The cilantro was beautiful and fresh, as were the finely julienned pickled carrots and daikon. I was surprised to find neither pate not mayo spread on the roll. I realize these are not PREREQUISITES, but I do think they provide a necessary creamy mouthfeel. Instead, the pork seemed coated in a thickened version of its marinade. Slightly sweet, but not unpleasantly so. The pork itself was strips of shoulder, JUST fatty enough, but rendered so as not to be gristly. Personally, I prefer mine more caramelized, and this has only a few tiny hints of any flame source licking at it (which to me defines the adjective “charbroiled.”)
Not my FAVORITE bahn mi, but certainly far better than NO bahn mi. I would not come here specifically for that sandwich in the future (though I would not turn it down if someone brought me one.)
Next up was the Pho … I went with Tai Nam (eye round and well-done flank) and was presented an enormous bowl. Actually they are ALWAYS served in enormous bowls, so this is not unusual. The AMOUNT of beef was. This easily had twice as much meat as any Pho I had been served EVER.
Now the eye round was not rare (I like when they put it in raw) but it was good, but not NEARLY as flavorful as the flank, which was perfectly tender. Noodles were also generous and had an excellent texture. They were a bit stuck together, but this happens, so I’m not complaining. They were not difficult to eat.
The broth, in my opinion, was not aggressively seasoned enough, and did not have as deep or rich a beefy flavor as the best versions I’ve tasted. It was not salty (and possibly was not aggressively dosed with MSG – which I personally do not mind – and actually expect.) The flavors did deepen the longer it sat, but the jalapenos failed to give it sufficient kick – that’s the luck of the draw with any jalapeno – so I added a splash of Sriracha for the requisite heat.
Three hours later, as I write this, I am stuffed, so that’s not a bad thing for a $21 lunch in an Asian (non-buffet) restaurant. I will certainly return and try other dishes. Sometimes I feel ethnic food can be “dumbed down” on the Main Line compared to Darby, or South/Northeast Philadelphia. I’m still happy for the addition.