Pho 90 Degree in San Jose [Smoked Veal Pho, Kobe-style Beef, Nem Nuong]
Pho 90 Degree (sic) is the largest tenant in the newish and mostly vacant Vietnam Town shopping center ( http://www.sanjosevietnamtown.com ) sandwiched between Walmart and Grand Century Mall on Story Road in San Jose. Fitted with stylish seating on the veranda, an interior ablaze with bling to rival Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and iPad-equipped servers, Pho 90° is not a scruffy noodle house. Serving until midnight, the place has been packed on my two visits.
Nem nuong cuon, one of the house specialties, came out fast, as speedy as the continuous process line at Brodard. But unlike Brodard, this pair of rolls seemed to have been sitting around for a while. Sans grill marks on the room temperature pork sausage, the crunchy fried pastry roll had softened, and the rice paper wrapper was too loose.
Shown here in cross section, this version also struck out on the contrast between warm and cold temperature, hitting neither extreme. The dipping sauce was on the sweet side and not very meaty.
The nem nuong cuon cha ram at San Jose’s Long An are superior.
The menu description for Pho Dac Biet Be Thui (smoked veal pho) claims “For the first time ever in Pho industry, Pho 90 proudly introduce in San Jose”. A plate of thin slices of smoked veal served on the side replaces tai (rare steak) and sports a garnished of fresh ngo om (rice paddy herb). The pink veal reminded me of the texture of prosciutto di Parma.
Besides the well-plucked sprouts, jalapeño slices and lime, the dewy fresh rau thom (assorted herb plate) included culantro, basil, and rice paddy herb.
The Pho bo leaned to the dark side, a little overboard with the anise, but hewed closer to a Northern version. Clear soup stock but not that deep and meaty, nor sweet or salty, and served less than steaming hot. Loaded with meats that were all good quality, the rice noodles stayed loose and firm-ish. An overly generous scatter of chopped green onions and the shavings of white onion were too thick.
A tart and savory dipping sauce for the smoked veal, served on the side, was more viscous than the common nuoc cham and less thick than the nem nuong sauce. Normally not one to use condiments with pho bo, dabbing on this sauce put the otherwise neutral meat back in the game. Here’s what the full smoked veal pho service looks like,
The Kobe beef hot pot was served as a sterno-warmed cauldron of hot broth that tastes different from the pho and is very salty and loaded with glutamates, as well as charred onions. Not for drinking, rather it’s over seasoned to flavor and warm/cook the beef slices. This came with the same type of herbs served with the pho.
The plate of well-marbled, fatty raw beef slices was more than enough for one person and would be better shared. I found that cooking them a bit more done than I would the usual raw tai hit a richer flavor profile. A chopstick point worth of the spicy housemade satay sauce applied to each slice added a garlicky accent.
I enjoyed the Kobe-style beef another bowl of pho bo dac biet, better this time with more of the taste of beef and silkiness from dissolved collagen. The shaved onions were thinner and fresher tasting. All round, a better balanced stock and composition.
999 Story Rd
San Jose, CA 95122
More about ngò om (Limnophila aromatic aka rice paddy herb)
After my lunch at GCM today, I went to Vietnam Town to case the new joints including Pho 90. I took pictures of the menu to post here, but of course you've beaten me to it, plus you have a full report of the pho AND the Kobe beef.
So I'll post the rest of the menu, including the page of pho choices. It's funny how they include a diagram of the cow, but it won't help you understand what the hell is Beef stripe (hint: it's a misspelling; just drop the s).
I see you can get tai dap (softened rare steak) here. The word dap is like to beat or hit, i.e. pounded beef, and it's the method I first saw at Pho Hanoi but recently noticed being copied elsewhere. I like this since flank can be tough unless it's still rare, and at places that use eye of round it's dry & tough even when rare.
Here, you can even get the chef's favorite tai dap chay (softened then stir fried beef). The word chay with that accent translates literally to burnt, so maybe the stir frying gives it some charring or wok hay. I'll have to order this next time.
They also have lots of various che (sweet drinks), and Vietnamese yogurt drinks which I think is made with sweetened condensed milk.
re: Alice Patis
Edited to apologize for not rotating the photos before uploading them, and to add the link to Chow.com's recipe for Vietnamese Yogurt:
My mom always made yogurt with regular cow's milk, so I've never had yogurt made with condensed milk. Now that I'm lactose intolerant I'm not really up for trying it.
I tried the nem nuong cuon at Pho 90 this past weekend, and had the same experience as Melanie. The rolls seemed a bit dried out, like they had been made a few hours earlier. I was expecting them to be made fresh.
My point of reference is also Brodard in Orange County. If Brodard's nem nuong cuon gets an A, I'd give Pho 90 a B-. The dipping sauces are similar as well, but something about Brodard's is more addicting. Pho 90's was fine, but nothing memorable.
I apologize for the red lighting in my photo, caused by our umbrella (we were sitting outside).